Local leader strives to inspire her community for better

June 7, 2021 /

NaTesha Johnson is a wife, mother, business owner, and avid community leader with a passion for change. She was born and raised in Bakersfield.

Johnson grew up singing in the church choir with her sisters along with any other activities her mother encouraged to keep her busy. She attended Bakersfield High, Bakersfield College, and Cal State Bakersfield, where she got her Masters in Public administration. 

“Although I’m accountable, I don’t apologize for who I am,” said Johnson describing her personality. “I’m a strong, outspoken, beautiful, black queen who will fight for her community — who will lend her voice when needed.”

Upside Productions was founded by Johnson in 2011 as a production company. She explained that they booked talents, commercials, and hosted events. They did anything entertainment wise until Covid hit.

“I had to for a couple of months put everything on pause to reassess what is it I want to do, and what is it I’m trying to do,” Johnson said. “I was affected like many other thousands of businesses, and you have to recess your mission in doing so I pivoted.”

While deciding what way to take her business, she decided the right thing to do was strategic partnerships.

Upside Productions uses their reach in all communities to connect other companies and organizations with necessary tools to reach their goals to target socially and economically disadvantaged groups. They help companies find the best way to reach groups in the population they may have a hard time reaching. One way this works is a marketing team from a medical foundation asking Upside productions how to reach black women specifically. Upside Productions will then provide them with the best way to achieve that goal.  

“We are really invested in diversity equity inclusion. We are able to identify those groups for that organization and logistically structure a connection for them,” said Johnson. 

Johnson defines diversity equity inclusion as improving cultural competency, identifying unconscious biases and providing different ways to provide belonging. Johnson sees that as important because organizations, councils, and committees should represent the populations they are a part of so everyone can economically flourish. 

Since the murder of George Floyd organizations have been trying learn more and some have asked Johnson to educate them on diversity equity inclusion. Johnson makes sure people realize this is not the same as affirmative action. It is recognizing that there are candidates and organizations that they may not have connections to. 

“One, I’m excited, I’m optimistic, I’m encouraged, I’m eager, I’m like yes people are being intentional,” said Johnson explaining how she feels when she’s asked to educate groups. “But at the same time I’m torn. I’m torn because I’m still a business, and I think people have this perception that if it resonates with you as it affects the black community, it is your obligation to do it at no cost.”

Along with her business, Johnson is also a part of several committees in Bakersfield. She is the first African American female president of the Fox Theater, Board of Directors for the Kern County Fairgrounds, Vice Chair for the Business Women’s Conference, President of Upside Non-Profit Inc, a member of the Citizens Bond Committee for Bakersfield City School District, Communication and Community Outreach Chair for the BPD Community Collaborative, member of the FBI citizens academy alumni, Board of Directors for the Bakersfield College Alumni Foundation, ambassador for the Beautiful Bakersfield Awards, treasure for the Centric Health Foundation, and has hosted the Women’s March the last three years. 

“I think it’s important to fight for your community in so many different ways. One, it is your duty and your obligation. It’s a representation of who you are,” explained Johnson about why it is important to fight for her community. “Another reason to fight for your community is we are a small population, and if you don’t fight and understand your past, you’re not going to understand where you’re going in the future.”

The love she has for her community is recognized through her actions and hard work from those around her. 

“She has a heart of gold. She genuinely cares about every single person in this community. Even people who don’t frankly either like her or respect her or follow her leadership,” said Traco Mathews, a colleague of Johnson’s and the Chief Program Officers at CAPK, about Johnson,  “She continues to care about them, to work on their behalf and ultimately to get results that will support their safety, their livelihood despite adversity. I want people to know that she’s got character of a saint and a heart of gold.” 

Being a part of so many groups can be hard to handle so Johnson makes sure to put everything in her calendar and focus on time management. 

“When I wake up, I say, ‘Lord thank you Jesus,’ and I place my feet on the ground and stomp the devil then I go straight to my calendar,” said Johnson

To keep herself from getting overwhelmed, she balances her time with work and family. After 7:00 pm she does not work because that is her family time. Her family sits down and has dinner every night and talks about their day. 

During the pandemic she also started a garden where she likes to spend her time thinking about ways to improve and reflecting. She has tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, green peppers, strawberries, and corn. 

“It’s very spiritual for me… It’s very calming. It’s very relaxing. I can tell my plant’s anything, it’s free therapy,” said Johnson explaining her gardening, “It’s just me, myself, and God.” 

Johnson advises young black women to stay true to themselves and to embrace sisterhood. 

“Be authentically you. Never apologize for being beautifully black. Never apologize for using your voice, God gave you that voice,” said Johnson giving advice to young black women. “Understand that sisterhood is so important, and sisterhood means a spiritual divine connection with women who will uplift you, support you, tell you when your slip is showing but straighten your crown at the same time.”

JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore is a student at Cal State Bakersfield. In addition to writing for Kern Sol News she is a poet who loves any chance she has to perform and be with her community.