Lemons on Canvas


Educator | Speaker | Advocate


Lee Johnson III, Ph.D., CHES®, IMH-E® is Senior Policy Analyst for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health at ZERO TO THREE, and is a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES).


Prior to this role, Lee served as Director of the Office of Early Learning at the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education, 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.

During his tenure, the state agency generated and expanded its collaborative partnerships that highlighted the importance of infant and early childhood mental health. Lee would later extend his leadership to the role of state director for Alabama’s own Association for Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health, more commonly recognized as First 5 Alabama.


Prior to state government, he served as an early childhood educator, serving at both the Child Development Research Center in Tuscaloosa, AL and Vogel Alcove in Dallas, TX. During his time at Vogel, Lee combined his education and musical talents to explore ways in which music could help improve social-emotional health. In addition, he used what he learned from building relationships with therapeutic early childhood educators, and the children they cared for, to appropriately design ECHO--a Therapeutic Enrichment Curriculum. The ECHO curriculum included lesson plan ideas, music planning protocols, and an age-appropriate music activity document containing the 10 national health education content areas aligned with Early Head Start/Head Start objectives governing the early childhood programming. The project was created in part to serve infant, toddler and preschool age children along with providing a resource to the center's therapeutic early childhood educators. Furthermore, Johnson's remarkable work at the center earned him a national endorsement by First3Years for this new work with the curriculum and his history of commitment to being culturally-sensitive, relationship-focused in promoting infant and early childhood mental health and well-being.  

Lee is a 2019 National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) Policy Fellow and a 2019 recipient of the Dissertation Award from the Southern Regional Education Board Doctoral Scholars Program. He was 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.


As a former early childhood educator, Lee is deeply committed to improving the quality of life for children and families through equity in early childhood systems. By using his early childhood education and public health research skills Lee seeks to support the global effort to support early learning and positive health outcomes for all children. Lee received his B.S., M.A., and Ph.D. from The University of Alabama. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Tuscaloosa, he currently lives in Washington D.C. 

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