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The Purposeful Life: Tracie Johnson ’13 Talks Passion for Service Rooted at UC

The alumna, who was a Bonner leader at Ursinus, works to create career pathways for women and girls of color who face barriers to employment and higher education because of their juvenile and adult criminal records.

“My time as a Bonner leader was the beginning of the work that I’m doing now,” Johnson said to an audience of students, faculty, staff and members of the neighboring community during a talk at Musser Auditorium in Pfahler Hall.

Johnson is an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Greenberg Traurig and Staff Attorney in the Employment Unit at Community Legal Services. Her talk, “Service: The Rent We Pay,” was part of MLK Week at Ursinus and presented through a collaboration between the offices of career and professional development, civic engagement and leadership and student activities.

“The first time a felt really passionate about something was when I was a GED tutor at a women’s prison when I was a Bonner leader,” she said. “I loved it because these were women who were concerned about life after they got out, and achieving something, like passing the GED test, that would make their families proud. A lot of these women were there because they committed crimes of poverty—stealing money, stealing for themselves because they were poor.”

The experience inspired Johnson to advocate for these women, including those who have untreated mental health conditions, in her professional life.

“A lot of people get caught up on the criminal justice system because of where they live and what they look like,” she said. “It’s my job to help them make sure they still have an opportunity to earn an education and a higher income.”

Johnson earned her juris doctor from Temple University’s James E. Beasley School of Law in 2018. Prior to law school, she worked as a communications associate at Philadelphia VIP through the Philly Fellows Program. She volunteered in the legal intake department of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and worked as a community outreach coordinator at a communications and design firm, Social Impact Studios.

“Trust your gut,” Johnson told the students. “If it doesn’t feel right and you just can’t stop thinking about it, advocate for it. Find your passion. Ursinus isn’t just a place you come to for a degree. This is a place you come to learn what matters to you.”

The collaboration between student affairs and academic affairs brings together existing offices to present new projects under the umbrella of the Ursinus Quest: Open Questions Open Minds core curriculum. –By Ed Moorhouse