By Abby Parsons
This February, faculty and staff tell us what Black History Month means to them and their own personal histories. Our second feature is on Paulina Johnson, RCC’s Library Acquisitions Specialist who has been an employee of the college for almost 25 years.
An Inspired Childhood
Paulina Johnson was born in Richmond County. She and her brother were raised by her grandparents. “My grandfather, Richard Thompson, was an oysterman, and he was so proud of that job. Back in the day, if you worked as an oysterman you were poor. But, he was so proud, no matter where he went he would talk about what he had done.” His hard work and determination inspired Johnson from a young age. When Paulina was a little girl, her grandfather would bring home oysters in the evening and teach her how to safely shuck them. “He loved what he did,” Johnson remembered fondly. He did it well, and he did it with integrity.”
The Path to Success
Though Johnson had always had an intense love of learning, she left school before graduation and shortly after, gave birth to her son, Quinton. It was at this time that she knew she wanted more opportunities in life for her son and for herself. “I felt like I had to do it for him,” she said. “I had to show him that no matter what you face in life, you can do this.”
Johnson completed her GED and felt the inspiration to move forward in her academic career. After accepting a work-study position at the RCC Library, she began to rediscover her love of learning and flourished under her mentor, Linda Taylor. As her bond with the library grew stronger, Johnson began to think of RCC as a second home. After years of service, Johnson moved from her work-study position to a part-time position, and then to a full-time position as Acquisitions Specialist.
After graduating with her Associates degree from RCC in 2000, Johnson went on to receive her Bachelor’s degree from Mary Baldwin. In 2013, she received her Master’s in Human Services from Liberty University – an accomplishment she considers her proudest achievement. “When I walked across that stage – and I looked at my son – he was smiling like, ‘That’s my mom!’ and I thought, ‘This is for you.’ I am a middle school dropout, but now I know that my accomplishments speak for themselves and I am so proud.”
Quinton would go on to graduate from RCC in the years to come, following his mother’s footsteps. “RCC has been a blessing to us both,” Johnson said. “That’s why I tell everyone to start here. Let this be your first step.”
Building the Dream
In 2001, Paulina and her husband, Garry, founded Superior1 Contractors. “Once I leave work at RCC, I throw my hair up and get to work again!” The Johnsons offer a range of home improvement jobs, including brick and block laying, deck building, and flooring installation. Even on difficult days when the work was physically strenuous, Paulina Johnson knew that their partnership supported their special bond. “The work makes us closer, and he is my best friend.” said Johnson proudly. After nearly 20 years of business, the companionship from her husband has made the business that much better. “I love it because I’m with my soulmate, my partner. It makes it all worth it.”
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
“When I think of Black History Month, I think of all the pioneers. It opened the door for all to see what we could do as a people – what anyone can do in the face of adversity. I think of the strength and empowerment of Obama, being our first African-American president. His election opened doors for little girls and boys to say ‘Hey! I can do this one day too.’
“Sir Isaac Newton said that, ‘we are standing on the shoulders of giants.’ I think of Dr. Martin Luther King, who put his life on the line for us. He had a family, he had a life, but he put that to the side because he saw the bigger picture. He knew he might not see the completion of it all, but he would be the one to start the way.”
Abby Parsons is a member of the Marketing/Communications team at Rappahannock Community College and wrote this for Rappahannock Community College in honor of Black History Month.