People say that youth is wasted on the young and never has that statement been less true than with this incredible nonprofit founder, N’dea Johnson. At only 24 years old she has undergone incredible personal loss and trauma and has used that to help others with her two-year-old nonprofit The Yellow Heart Committee.

Join us today to learn why you are never too young to make a difference and inspire others. Hear N’dea Johnson’s inspirational story of loss and perseverance as she works to heal and serve survivors of sexual assault and trauma.

Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what The Yellow Heart Committee does?

N’dea Johnson:  We support the holistic mental health of trauma survivors through policy, advocacy, education, and community outreach. How we do this through the pillars of HEART, which stand for Healing, Empowerment, Advocacy, Relationships in Therapy. So everything we do programming-wise has to fall under those pillars making sure we’re always centering the survivors. A big part of our work is communicating and advocating for survivors. We do that by working with elected officials to help draft legislation for trauma survivors.

Charity Matters: You are young for starting a nonprofit, were you always philanthropic?

N’dea Johnson:  I’ve always enjoyed doing work and volunteering in the community because of my mom. From a young age, she always was the one that was telling me, you have to support others, you always have to be good to others and always help people.  When I was a fifth grade, I was organizing students to get tutoring for the gate program and Star testing. I’ve also learned from her because she did have breast cancer.  Even with all that she was going through, she was always still caring and concerned about the community. And that’s something I replicated.

When my mom passed away, I ended up starting an organization in my middle school a few months after she died. I was in seventh grade and raising money for families with family members who have cancer. The whole point was to donate the money to help support anything that families were missing.  People were always surprised and say, “You’re 12 years old,  your mom just died and you’re doing this?”  That’s how my mom was when she was going through adversity herself. I’m going through it right now. And I know she wouldn’t want me just moping around. This work is how I handle my grieving is by turning it back into community service and doing things for others going forward.

Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start  The Yellow Heart Committee?

N’dea Johnson:   It started on January 1, 2019, when I was sexually assaulted.  I actually had to go back to school, two days later, because it was winter quarter and I was graduating early from UCLA.  I’ve always been a 4.0 student always and this really destroyed me.  The irony is that I was trained in rape response because I was a Resident Assistant. Rather than letting myself heal, I tried to suppress it because I was so determined to graduate early, to go to Columbia for grad school. I kept it all to myself.

In March of 2019, I had pre-scheduled jaw surgery. I came out of jaw surgery paralyzed. The doctors were said, “How did you have jaw surgery, but your legs are paralyzed?”  Nobody knew what happened, even I didn’t know what happened. I couldn’t talk because I had jaw surgery.  I  had to relearn all of my functions; eating, talking, walking everything. Then we realized I had experienced conversion disorder.

 Conversion disorders are when you convert the psychological stress of trauma into a physical reaction. So when I went in for surgery and went under anesthesia, my body thought I was being attacked again. As a result,  I ended up having nerve damage.  Being in a rehab facility in the hospital and that’s where it really made me want to start this.  I gave birth to the Yellow Heart Committee in a hospital bed. Once I could walk again, I knew the first thing I was going to do was report him at the police station.  At that time I hadn’t. The second thing I was going to do was start a nonprofit. So that’s where I really got started.

Charity Matters: What are your biggest challenges?

N’dea Johnson:   It is so hard because I’m learning from the ground up. But I’m also learning how to be an adult in the same capacity. So things like you have to pay your taxes for like nonprofits. I’m like, “I don’t know how to do that?”  Those types of things I’m having to learn and becoming an adult while growing up.

Charity Matters: What fuels you to keep doing this work?

N’dea Johnson: The individual people one hundred percent. My nonprofit, everybody’s unpaid right now and we all have full-time jobs or are full-time students. We have our days where we have a really rough day at work. The team says,
” All right, what are we doing next? How we’re gonna solve this?” And it’s just knowing that  I can have those moments of vulnerability and say I need support. They have my back and they’re like, “Okay, so what do you need us to do to keep this nonprofit going? How can we support you?” Those individual people in terms of my team are what I love, and it feeds me to keep me going. That and the survivors who reach out to me in times of crisis.

Charity Matters: Tell us what success you have had and your impact? 

N’dea Johnson:  We’re the connectors definitely. We bring the people who are the decision-makers and the survivors to the table.  In six months, we met with 44 elected officials to advocate for our Sexual Domestic Violence Task Force Legislation that we wrote. We are introducing that to California and working to get a federal level hearing.  Our state-level hearing is in  September on mental health and trauma at the Capitol in California. We definitely bring those people who can make those decisions to the table to hear the stories of survivors.

Charity Matters: How has this journey changed you?

N’dea Johnson:  I would say my self-awareness has changed, I definitely think that I’m more conscious of not just my own experiences, but also how my words or my actions or anything can impact others. Something that’s really been a big thing of mine is that we may want to judge somebody right away. But let’s think about why they’re acting the way they’re acting. Let’s go deeper than the immediate reaction, and wonder what trauma happened for why did they react, right?

That’s not something that I would have been conscious of two years ago. And I think that I’m more in touch with who I am in terms of why I’m feeling a certain way. Or even how I need to react to a situation and to be more empathetic to people. It is important to realize what is the intent versus impact. The intention may not have been to hurt, but the impact may have hurt somebody. Being aware of those types of things has really been something that has made me grow and change.



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