For this week’s Woman Wednesday, AY About You sits down with Bonnie Johnson.
While Seattle is Johnson’s hometown, Arkansas has been home for most of her adult life. Johnson raised two children here while working in Arkansas’s nonprofit sector.
Her first nonprofit experience was helping to create the Sanctuary, a shelter for victims of domestic violence in Harrison, where she worked for several years. Johnson moved to Little Rock to be the first executive director of the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a job now held by Beth Goodrich. After that, Johnson was executive director of the Arkansas Disability Coalition, which worked for rights and opportunities for people with disabilities, and then Nonprofit Resources, which provided grassroots organizations with training and technical assistance on governance, management, and community organizing.
When her children were grown, Johnson made a radical career change: going to law school.
“Attending the William H. Bowen School of Law was a great privilege and very hard work. It was also more fun than I expected. I clerked for two years for Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck, the first woman elected justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court and an extraordinary mentor,” Johnson says. “Since becoming a licensed attorney, I have been mentored by other notable women including North Little Rock Deputy City Attorney Marie-Bernarde Miller, University of Arkansas System general counsel JoAnn Maxey, and Teresa Wineland, who is in private practice. I practice at Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, where I am fortunate to work with one of Arkansas’s most accomplished attorneys, Carolyn Witherspoon.”
Johnson’s passion for community organizing and nonprofit organizations carried over into her law practice. “I have many nonprofit clients and, in collaboration with the Bowen Law School and the Department of Human Services, authored the Legal Guide for Arkansas Nonprofit and Volunteer Organizations. I also represent public schools and have a general practice including business and employment law,” she says.
Johnson explains what it means to her to be a woman.“Friendships with other women are hugely important to me. One of the best things about Arkansas women is our ability to form lasting relationships that support us in every aspect of our lives. Our women lawyers are wonderful about sharing their expertise with each other.”
Johnson goes on to mention some of the challenges faced by a woman in her career field.
“A law career is challenging for anyone, but traditionally women have had to work harder to prove ourselves. We are still underrepresented in private practice, but that is changing as large numbers of talented, energetic young women enter the field. Our communication and relationship building skills are invaluable in the practice of law.”
Johnson offers a few words of advice for women and girls who might end up reading this article.
“Support other women and lean on them when you need to. We are in this life together. Believe in yourself; you are capable of far more than you realize. Never stop learning and contributing to your community.”