Empowering agency: AARCC's Autumn Johnson

Director of the AARCC, Autumn Johnson, is dedicated to generating opportunities and cultivating community for students

Director of the AARCC, Autumn Johnson (Kresge ’15, sociology).

Prior to Autumn Johnson (Kresge ‘15, Sociology) taking the job as the Director of the African American Resource & Cultural Center, she was ready to leave the field of Higher Education. She had previously served at San Francisco State University as the Senior Director of Culture & Social Justice Programs, and was leaving the field to pursue Law School, until she saw the post shared by the previous director. Seeing the post helped her recognize that this role could be described as her dream job. 

“I felt like all of my experiences as a professional in the field, as a graduate student, and undergrad were coalescing in a way that allowed me to really be of service,” Johnson says.

Johnson graduated from UCSC in 2015 and is an alumna of the African American Theater Arts Troupe (AATAT) and the SoMeCa space. She followed a wide career path across fields and industries: from working in restaurants, to working as a substitute teacher, and eventually, attending graduate school at San Francisco State University. After finishing her program at SFSU, Autumn served as a full-time staff member on that campus. Yet, even across all of her career paths, nothing was quite like her experience at UCSC.

“Coming back the first time, I saw some deer on the side of the windy road, and it totally brought me back,” Johnson said. “I recognized this is such a unique place, and having been out of it for about seven years, I forgot. ”

The AARCC serves African, Black, and Caribbean (ABC) students from their first moments coming to campus, often through Black Academy to the moment they cross stage at Black Grad. When a student identifies with an ABC demographic in their application, they’re  automatically signed onto the AARCC’s newsletter, giving them an immediate connection to the multitude of programs, support services, and social and cultural events offered by the center. 

In her work as the AARCC director, Johnson finds her time at UCSC coming full circle. Starting as a student and mentee, she now finds herself grabbing lunch and enjoying walks with the advisors and mentors she learned from as an undergrad. The AARCC helps continue the passing down of knowledge even further, through the African American Mentorship Program (AAMP), where ABC students connect to four or five mentors and stay in contact to guide them throughout the academic year. 

“I get to do the not so fun stuff, and bear witness to the fun stuff,” Johnson says. “As the director, I get to set a foundation to empower our student interns to take agency.”

Johnson is hopeful that AARCC’s alumni will help contribute new opportunities to a new generation of students. She encourages alumni to keep in contact with the AARCC to stay in community with our students. We are hoping to build mentorship through these alumni connections.

“That will allow us to actually serve our students and create a network so that from the moment they graduate, [students will] know there's Black Slugs out there.”