Johnson named state civil rights director, vows to address hate crimes, health care disparities

By: - July 27, 2021 8:42 am

John Johnson | Michigan Department of Civil Rights photo

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) on Monday voted unanimously to appoint John Johnson as permanent executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) during its two-hour virtual meeting.  

The eight-member commission had appointed Johnson to serve as interim executive director at its May 24 meeting. Prior to that, Johnson served as the department’s legislative liaison and special advisor to the commission. The Michigan Department of Civil Rights serves as the operational arm of the commission. It was created through public vote in 1962 and became part of the 1963 state Constitution.

“I am humbled by the appointment, and am ready to engage in the fight against the discrimination that still plagues our state,” Johnson told the Advance after the commission meeting. “Hate crimes, employment discrimination, health care disparities, housing segregation and educational inequities are issues that must be addressed in a collaborative effort. MDCR is first and foremost a law enforcement agency. We will vigorously and proactively charge those who choose to violate Michigan’s civil rights laws. But, we will also use our resources to engage with and educate anyone who wants to do better.  We look forward to making a difference.”

The decision to name an interim director was necessary after the announcement on May 17 that MDCR Executive Director James White had accepted the position of interim chief of the Detroit Police Department.

Before he was hired by MDCR, Johnson served as executive director of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, a position he held for seven years. Before that, he held several leadership positions, including corporation counsel for the city of Detroit, general counsel to the Detroit NAACP, and hearing officer for the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Johnson earned his bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a law degree from Valparaiso University. He has been a member of the State Bar of Michigan for more than 41 years.

“We are confident that [Johnson] will continue to provide exemplary leadership for the department as its permanent director,” said MCRC Chair Stacie Clayton.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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