Twenty-five-year-old Glynis M. Johns is a Scranton native working to give local people of color a voice through the Black Scranton Project. She is a 2011 graduate of Scranton High School and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology from St. John’s University in Queens, New York. She is now giving back to the schools that gave her so much, working as a substitute teacher in Scranton School District and as an adjunct professor of sociology at St. John’s.
Meet Glynis M. Johns…
Q: What interested you in sociology and led you to study it?
A: When I got to college, I was undecided. I took a sociology course in high school and then I went to the department and the faculty was so inviting. I fell in love from there. I really love researching and learning about particular communities and people. I’m most interested in race and critical race theories and equality. I consider myself a socio-historian.
Q: Describe what a socio-historian is.
A: A socio-historian looks at particular aspects of history through a sociological lens. I’m looking at the black community here and black history. I’m trying to provide a narrative and story about the black community based on census data and all of the things I’ve found. I’m giving them a voice and putting them in a sociological perspective.
Q: Tell me more about the Black Scranton Project.
A: My mission is to share and provide cultural engagement and enrichment for the black and brown community here. I just want to give a voice and platform to under represented groups in Scranton. Hopefully this project can be a stepping stone for other communities. That way we can make this a bigger project so people have cultural archives, and I think that’s important especially from a city that really boasts cultural diversity. I’m trying to look for a team and get the community involved. I’m looking for artists, educators, student involvement and institutions to get involved. I want it to be bigger than myself.
Q: You recently organized “Shoutout Black Art Exhibition.” What was that?
A: I wanted to create an event that was unapologetic. I feel like a lot of times people are afraid to call things what they are. Even though I said blackness is not a monolith, these are black artists with black expressions. Why can’t we have a room full of that and ask people to come? I’m black, I’m here and I want to see black art, so why not do it? I think people were afraid it might be exclusive. Seeing an exhibit on the First Friday map that says “Shoutout Black Art Exhibition,” maybe some people thought they can’t go because they’re not black, they can’t be in a room full of black art. If the roles were reversed, if you’re a person of color and you’re always in white spaces, we don’t do that because we wouldn’t be anywhere. It was a celebration and a lot of the artists had exposure.
Q: You are also an artist yourself. What got you interested in art?
A: I grew up in a very artistic family. My mom is an artist; she used to paint and do so many different types of art. That trickled down to her children. Myself and my brothers, we’re very artistic. I’m interested in photography, but I dabble in other things. I was into jewelry making for some time. I’m a DIY kind of person, so anything I want and I can make it, I’m going to make it. I love doing those projects and making things on my own. I enjoy portrait photography. I also enjoy still-life and experimental photography, such as the light drawings done with long exposures. I love the bare bones of photography. I used to be in the dark room every day.
Q: You go back and forth between working with college students and children ages 5 through 18. How do you make that transition?
A: The language that you use for college students is obviously going to be different than when you’re talking to a fifth-grader. But there is also this common ground of understanding when you’re talking about topics. I can talk about something to a fifth-grader and they’ll understand it, and I can talk about the same thing to a college student and they’ll both understand on the same intellectual level. I love sitting in a room of 5-year-olds one day and a room of college students the next. It keeps me on my toes.
Q: Being so young, what is it like teaching people close to you in age?
A: What I find to be the most interesting particularly at St. John’s, it is a diverse school, but there is a disparity between the diversity in students and diversity in faculty. I’m coming from a different perspective because I was a student there, and now I’m faculty. My students come up to me and they’re like, “Wow, you’re the first black professor I’ve ever had.” When I was in college, I had the same experience. I’m so very young, but they’re coming to me for support that they’re not seeking from other faculty members. I have a responsibility and care for my students because I want them to have something I didn’t have.
Q: What is something your students have taught you?
A: I learned how hungry students actually are to learn. I’m always amazed by how smart my students are. Sometimes I underestimate them or think something is going to be too much, but they out-do me every time, which also inspires me to be better.
Q: What other hobbies or interests do you have?
A: I am leading the Complete Count Committee. It’s for the 2020 census with the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s up to local communities to make sure everyone is counted once and in the right place. Our area — Lackawanna County, but Scranton in particular — has been severely undercounted. We are trying to make sure that people are being counted, because there is $675 billion in federal funding that gets distributed to local municipalities depending on the response. That means we can get more funding for schools, Head Start and public programs. It’s a big project, but it’s something that I really like.
Q: Have you had a moment that helped shape who you are today?
A: My dad passed away in 2015 right before I was about to graduate. I knew he was the most excited for me to graduate, so I knew I had to finish school and do it for him. The underlying support and strength that I find is through my dad and how proud he is of me.