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Helping Those Who Can’t Help Themselves

Young Government Leaders (YGL) and GovLoop present the NextGen Public Service Awards for superior public service and achievement. The 5th Annual NextGen Public Service Awards will be given at the 2015 NextGen Award’s Ceremony, which will kick of the NextGen Training Summit on July 20th and 21st in Washington, DC. This year we have 30 finalists – the NextGen 30. Over the next month we will introduce you to our finalists through this blog series.

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Meet the Finalist:

Who: Carol Johnson, Executive Director, Arkansas Fair Housing Commission

Achievement: NextGen Public Service Award Finalist, Advocates Category

“She’s raised awareness throughout the state regarding the need to affirmatively further fair housing and ensure that cities and municipalities across the state are utilizing federal funds to create sustainable and inclusive communities for Arkansas. In addition, she provides technical support to the civil and civic leaders so that they can recognize areas that may need improvement in their respective communities. This leads to opportunities for these leaders to improve the quality of lives for their residents. She is making the community a better place,” said Kia Webb, a colleague who nominated Johnson.

Carol Johnson has always been one to lend a helping hand to those in need. She attended law school, not to become a corporate attorney and make loads of money, but to help people by working in civil rights.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping people. I feel that those who are empowered need to empower others. So I feel like it’s my responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves, to be a voice for those who don’t have their own, and to just work toward progress for the disenfranchised,” said Johnson.

To put it simply, Johnson’s job is to help facilitate open access to housing for residents throughout the state of Arkansas. The Fair Housing Commission works under the Arkansas Fair Housing Act and the Federal Fair Housing Legislation, which offer legal protection for fair housing and fair lending. They protect people from unfair housing practices based on their race, color, national origin, disability, religion, sex, or familial status.

“Unfortunately, there have been people who historically have been disadvantaged and disenfranchised within the housing process,” said Johnson. “And those laws were put in place to protect those rights, to ensure that there is open and equal access to housing without regard to those subjective factors that should play no role into whether or not you are able to gain accesses into a neighborhood, or whether you’re able to purchase a home, or get a loan.”

In short, she said if someone believes they’ve been victimized or discriminated against in housing, either in lending or unfair housing practices, then they can come to the Fair Housing Commission and their complaint will be investigated.

“Getting the buy in from legislative community, from the housing community, even from the general public sometimes can be very difficult. And so it’s important that we all work together. I would say that there is absolutely no way that I could do any of these things by myself. Obviously having a good support around me is vital, essential, and crucial to being able to get this work done because there’s so much of it to be done,” said Johnson.

It is clear that Johnson loves many aspects of her job, but the one that she absolutely loves the most education and outreach. “I think that some fair housing and fair vending violations can be resolved through education,” she said. “Some cannot, but I think that a lot of times people are violating rules and regulations that they may not be quite as aware of and that they need to be, so I think the education plays a vital role in that.”

Along with educating others, Johnson says learning plays a huge role in her success in government work. “We all live in a society together, so we need to learn to understand each other and to assist each other. While another person’s problem may not necessarily be your specific problem, you need to be able to emphasize that and understand some of the situations and challenges they may face. Learn all you can,” she said.

Having stayed in government work for over 16 years, it is clear Johnson has found her niche: public service. She concluded, “I’m a public servant because I believe in helping others. I think we have a responsibility to do that but we are also privileged to be able to do that.”

We will be talking to all the NextGen Public Service Award finalists in the upcoming weeks. See the full list here. Finally, register to attend the Awards Ceremony to get to know the NextGen 30 in-person!

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