Awareness of racism is the first step. Dawn Johnson helps White women to move from awareness, to ally, to an accomplice, to activist.
Dawn Johnson describes herself as a leader, speaker, coach, motivator, and “a dope-ass black woman entrepreneur.” Through her company “White Elephant Consulting,” she works with White women who are ready to support Black women.
The Dawn Johnson Experience
Dawn grew up in Gary, Indiana. “We know that’s a city of adversity, poverty, and crime,” Dawn says. Nonetheless, she explains, “My hood was full of love. I had an incredibly supportive community. I had teachers that looked like me. The mayor was Black. Civic leaders were Black. It was truly a village and full of love.”
Dawn was a student-athlete, competing in Track & Field. She received a full scholarship to Purdue University. “Being a Division I athlete contributed to my perseverance. I was looked upon as a poor little Black girl from Gary. Every day I had to show up academically and athletically to prove my worth. I knew I could not go backward. I understood that failure is not an option.”
Dawn felt the pressure of representing her family and her community. She felt the obligation to perform at the highest level. She achieved academic honors. Her team brought home a Big 10 Championship. She was on a four-by-four, 600-meter relay team who set a record that stood for 26 years.
Her perseverance prepared her for corporate life. “I’m racing out of Gary, racing out of poverty,” Dawn explains. “Then, in college, I’m racing to the finish line. I’m racing to get a degree. That set me up for corporate America.”
The Only Black Woman in the Room
In her corporate career, Dawn often found herself as the first Black woman to step into a role. “I was the only Black woman in my company, in the very beginning,” she explains. “I got shipped to Minnesota after my 90-day training. The office was full of White guys and one older White woman.
“They had no idea how to talk to me, how to engage me. I knew that showing up Black in a majority-White space – I had to get up to speed quickly. There were no mentors for me. I was thrown into the fire.
“I had a huge territory. My job was to go to small towns in Wisconsin, the upper peninsula of Michigan, Duluth, Superior, and all these small towns. I had to sell hot dogs to White guys, and meat cutters. Many of them had never had a conversation with a Black woman. I felt like a damn pioneer. Because of how I’m wired, I had to get over it. I had to see people as people.”
But she was not treated as an equal. “It was like ‘You’re funny. You’re articulate. You’re so pretty and thin. How’d you get this job?’ There was this constant question of ‘How the hell are you here?’”
Dawn found that she had to continuously explain her credentials and justify her presence in White spaces. “Every day, I had to get up and give myself a pep talk that I am worthy and excellent at what I do.
“It took me 22 years and time away from corporate America to process the trauma of all that I endured.”
White Elephant Consulting
Dawn eventually left her corporate career. She took some time to heal. “This is three years into my healing journey,” she says. “and my entrepreneurial journey. I had no idea until I removed myself from it, how damaged I was.”
John C. Maxwell trained her as a trainer, professional speaker, and coach. “The life coaching aspect really spoke to me. I use my experiences to help you to connect to things you have blocked that are preventing you from being your best you.”
Dawn launched her coaching career at the beginning of 2020. “And then there was this thing called a pandemic that hit,” Dawn says. “And shortly after that, there was the murder of George Floyd. That completely changed the world. It triggered in me a desire to educate White women.”
Dawn pivoted and launched What Elephant Consulting. “I take my experiences as a Black woman into corporate America, into small businesses, with individuals to talk about the white elephant in the room, which is race.
“I believe that women lead change. Life comes through women. If I can connect heart-to-heart with White women, I can create change in them so that they can move forward in their allyship.
“I have been moved in my work to align with White women so that White women can hear Black women speak. They can listen to our stories and be moved by our stories. They can be activists. They can amplify us as Black mothers.
“We are in a time of awakening—Minnesota wok up the world to what we’ve always known.
“I want the ‘woke’ White women to move from just being woke, to ally, to an accomplice, to activist.”
Dawn offers opportunities for White and Black women to connect through forums, retreats, and, of course, virtual formats.