Surrounded by friends, city officials and co-workers from the Neighborhood Planning Councils (NPC), youth leader Oliver W. Johnson has been sworn in as a member of the United Planning Organization's 10-member Board of Trustees.
Since its inception in 1968, the NPC has been the largest recipient of federal, anti-poverty grants distributed through the United Planning Organization. However, Johnson's appointment by the mayor represents the first time an NPC member has served on the UPO board, said Curtis Taylor, director of the D.C. Recreation Department's office of community-based services, which monitors NPC activities.
NPC is a citywide job and social enrichment program run by and for poverty youths between the ages of 13 and 21. Johnson is currently chairman of the 20 NPC Council of Chairpersons.
"This is a find day for our young people," declared a smiling Mayor Walter E. Washington following the brief ceremony attended by about 25 people last week in the District chambers. "It is very fitting and proper that we have a representative from our community that can speak for the youth."
Johnson, 30, will fill the seat vacated by Ben Segal, whose three-year term ended in January. Segal, now with the U.S. Labor Department, was labor adviser to the mayor.
A longtime city activist and advocate of youth and tenant rights, Johnson was appointed by the mayor in 1974 to serve on the city Housing and Rental Accommodations Commission, which was instrumental in developing the city's present rent control legislation.
Before his term was completed, however, Johnson, and several other commission members resigned because "of a lack of support from the mayor," he said.
Of his UPO appointment, Johnson said, "As early as February we had expressed a desire to the mayor and his representatives to have an (NPC member) on the UPO board." During his three-year term, he said he will work to get two more NPC representatives, vice chairwoman Dorothy Boyd and an NPC youth, appointed to the UPO board.
"I believe there will be some very interesting (UPO) meetings," he said while churckling.
Most of the NPC workers, including Taylor, said the appointment, like the ceremony (which was an hour late in starting), was a long time in coming.
"It should have happened a long time ago," said Charlotte Fillmore, a community leader with an NPC in the Adams-Morgan area. "I'm glad it came about, and I'm glad it's Mr. Johnson."
In previous years, NPC was often unable to penetrate UPO's bureaucratic layers to have critical needs met, said Taylor. Johnson, he said, will now bridge that gap.
Describing Johnson as the people's choice, Taylor added, "We're just happy that for the first time in the history of the NPC process, we have a representative whose voice will be heard."
Johnson is a native Washington and a graduate of the D.C. public schools and Southeastern University. Over the years he has worked with housing coalitions, tenant groups and rent control panels advocating tenant rights. He has served on the boards of various community social service and drug prevention centers in Southeast Washington, where he lives.
He currently is employed with the D.C. Department of Labor, overseeing CETA operations under the division of youth programs.
Johnson attended the ceremony with his fiancee Biddie Watten and his godchildren, Venessa Marshall, 13; Kezra Marshall, 12, and Frederick Marshall III, 7.