Discover, learn, grow, repeat.
Discover, learn, grow, repeat.
A short glance at Johnson's academic and professional career illuminates his dedication to promoting children's health and family quality of life. Before Johnson completed his third degree from The University of Alabama (UA), his work significantly impacted the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education and, more recently, ZERO TO THREE in Washington, D.C. Ensuring boundless possibilities for all children and thriving futures for all families motivates Johnson's success. He first realized his passion for early childhood development while pursuing an associate's degree in music education at Shelton State Community College (SSCC) in Tuscaloosa, AL.
During his academic career at Shelton State, he quickly realized that music was a bridge to his true calling. He recalled that his participation in Bach to Rock was pivotal, affirming his purpose of supporting children and fostering caregiver-child connections. Bach to Rock was a vocal performance ensemble of Shelton State students educating elementary school children about music. Initially pursuing a bachelor's in music, he reimagined his academic path and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and a Master of Arts in Health Education & Promotion from UA's College of Human Environmental Sciences.
While completing his undergraduate and graduate coursework, Johnson worked as an early childhood educator at UA's Child Development Research Center, Arts' N Autism in Tuscaloosa, and the Vogel Alcove Child Center for the Homeless in Dallas, Texas. At the Child Development Center in Dallas, Lee combined his education and musical talents to explore how music could support infant, toddler, and preschool-age children's social-emotional well-being. By partnering with the therapeutic early childhood educators and the children they cared for, the Early Childhood Health Opportunities (ECHO) Therapeutic Enrichment Curriculum was born.
The ECHO curriculum made available various lesson plan ideas, music planning protocols, and age-appropriate music activities aligned with the ten national health education content areas at the time and the Early Head Start/Head Start objectives governing the early childhood program. Johnson's remarkable work at the center earned him an Endorsement® in infant mental health by First3Years (formerly the Texas Association for Infant Mental Health).
Endorsement® involves evaluating work experience in early childhood across categories based on specific types of work, education, in-service training, leadership, and participation duration in reflective supervision/consultation. Centering pregnant people, infants/toddlers (0-36 months), and their families, Endorsement® recognizes an individual's commitment to being culturally sensitive and relationship-focused in promoting infant and early childhood mental health and wellbeing. In addition, Endorsement® applicants will demonstrate achievement of ongoing professional development across early childhood competencies, as defined in the desired category.
In beginning his doctorate in public health, under the leadership of UA Health Science faculty, Dr. Angelia Paschal and Dr. Wanda Burton, Johnson built upon his earlier foundation in early childhood by deepening his public health policy knowledge. Utilizing his developing network, he secured several appointments with the State of Alabama, including serving as director for the Office of Early Learning at the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education (DECE). DECE is a cabinet-level state agency responsible for the nationally recognized First Class Pre-K Program, First Teacher Home Visiting Program, Alabama's Head Start Collaboration Office, Early Childhood Advisory Council, and Child Care Quality Coaching.
Johnson's leadership role within the department focused primarily on advancing early childhood mental health priorities, implementing children's policy, and advising on state and federally-funded home visiting efforts. During his tenure, he became the first director of First 5 Alabama®, Alabama's Association for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health. Johnson's impact would expand from the state to the national level as he neared his doctorate's completion, as evidenced in his being one among six selected for the National Black Child Development Institute's (NBCDI) inaugural policy fellowship cohort.
According to the NBCDI, the policy fellowship aims to deliver a new cadre of highly qualified policy leaders who will bring innovation and diversity to the senior and executive levels in national child and family policy and advocacy organizations. The two-year program allows fellows to incubate new approaches to policies and advance nuanced reform to systems that ensure all children realize their full potential. Johnson is a 2019 recipient of the Dissertation Award from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) Doctoral Scholars Program and a recent 2020 Jack Davis Professional Achievement Award Recipient in Early Childhood Education bestowed upon him from his alma mater.
He is a featured infant and early childhood mental health expert in the 2020 award-winning Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation documentary, Starting At Zero: Reimagining Education in America. The documentary, produced in partnership with Firestarter Interactive and directed by Willa Kammerer, explores the power of investing in high-quality early childhood education so that all children and families have the opportunity to realize their potential. Johnson's work sits at the intersection of early childhood and public health education.
He is the former Vice President of Policy at the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI). He is the Founder and Principal of Early Quest Strategies™, a multi-purpose consultancy focused on enhancing early childhood and mental health outcomes through strategic planning, policy advising, and leadership consulting.
"Each day is an opportunity for policymakers to create policies that safeguard child development, support affirming early learning settings and experiences, and prioritize the health and wellbeing of our children, our neighbor's children, of us all,"- Dr. Lee Johnson III