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Spotlight: Dr. Ida Johnson

By Joyce Godwin Grubbs

Dr. Ida Johnson Accepts Women's Leadership Award (
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February 16, 2010 – Davenport, Iowa (Cable Muse Network, LLC) – For years the people who know and love Dr. Ida Johnson have tried to convince her to write a book and tell her story. Humble to the core, she wrote them off as “nice folks who loved her”. She thought, what could be so special about a single mom who survived domestic violence and raised her family “the best she could?” It took a powerful wakeup call from a “neutral source” to teach her that being humble can be a stumbling block to “a blessing to others”.

Meadowlark Lemon is a man admired throughout the world as an acclaimed American basketball player, a member of the original Harlem Globetrotters and inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame. When he received an invitation to speak at Dr. Ida’s fundraiser to benefit her organization ‘United Neighbors’ in Davenport, Iowa, he researched the request.  Dr. Ida was pleased her invitation on behalf of the organization she founded, was accepted. She was surprised when Mr. Lemon spoke with her privately during his visit and asked if she had ever considered writing a book about her life. Lemon said while researching her he found things that should be shared. At 72 Dr. Ida Johnson still considers Meadowlark Lemon’s suggestion of a memoir, "a living legacy" to her life.  


As a small child, Ida was part of civil rights marches accompanying her minister father.  He included his entire family in the marches and sit-ins of the era. Dr. Ida shared with Cable Muse that she remembers being “called everything but a child of God” as her family was spat on and shoved. Her grandfather told stories of accompanying his father into the south to steal slaves and bring them out to live free. Her beginnings with the ‘white world’ were shaky at best.

Dr. Ida Johnson with Obama (

Young churchwoman, Ida Johnson fell in love, married, and had a family. In an attempt to save her life from domestic abuse, she ran, taking her children with her to the state of Iowa. Ida had to accept her new conditions of welfare and live in a poor neighborhood while fighting to keep her family intact and fed; she made sure it was as short an experience as possible. Ida began to bring neighborhood children in to her living room for games, and learning activities. From that humble beginning more than thirty-five years ago, now Dr. Johnson has a formal non-profit, United Neighbors, which serves hundreds of people a day.

United Neighbors provides after-school tutoring programs, summer programs, “Juneteenth” celebrations, food and clothing programs and she is known as the Mother of the Central City. Her programs help access health benefits, rent, and housing advocacy. The hardest and most emotional contribution has come in these last years as she finally began to speak out on domestic violence and encourage young women to seek help and educate them on the facts that may save their lives.

Among the honors she has received is the Martin Luther King Award for Service, an honorary Doctorate from St. Ambrose University, recognition at city, state and national levels from government and civic groups. She has testified before legislative bodies nationally and is recognized as an authority of positive change in urban neighborhoods. Most recently she was chosen as the 2009 Iowa African American Women’s Leadership Conference as one of three Honorees for outstanding contributions to the mentoring and leadership of African American women in Iowa.

Ida is courted by politicians on both sides of the aisle, and is considered an integral part of planning strategic programs to benefit the minorities in her city and her state. She is a strong woman of faith and holds leadership in her church, and as a role model for Christian women. Dr. Ida Johnson is truly a humble and vital woman.

Dr. Ida Johnson with her daughters (

In the early years, as she struggled to move her work from her home to a formal organization and permanent building, she was often attacked and called a racist. She never backed down, and all the while enduring continuing hardships and losses. She lost a son, and her youngest child had grown into adulthood with difficult to control seizures. At seventy-two, Ida still cares for her grown daughter in her home, while maintaining a forty-hour workweek in her organization.

Black history, like all human history, is made up of many small events, individuals and those who stand out not because they are famous, but because they are persistent in their beliefs, consistent in their efforts and they prevail because they never quit. Dr. Ida is all of these things, and continues in the city of Davenport, Iowa to make a change for the better, to close racial divides, and to champion those who seek the American Dream, which has no color.

Related Link:

United Neighbors, Inc.

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