Cary Johnson '82

Mali, Crisis Counselor

Cary JohnsonHunger, HIV, genocide, and violence against women and LGBT people—Cary Johnson ’82 has fought in all those battles, and more.

“I’ve moved between Africa, New York, and Washington, doing work that addresses issues of poverty, marginalization, discrimination, lack of access to services here in the States or in Africa—which to me is all the same,” he says, foreshortening a résumé that ranges across continents, crises, and causes. “We’re all one world.”

And Johnson has seen much of it, though he’s often found himself focused on Africa. He made his first trip there as a Sarah Lawrence junior—a semester in Nairobi inspired by former faculty member Lina Brock (anthropology), who was deeply attached to the continent. Soon after graduation, Johnson returned with the Peace Corps to what was then Zaire.

“We’re a gender justice organization, and that fits in really well with what I learned at Sarah Lawrence.”

In the United States in the 1980s, he worked on AIDS issues during the height of the epidemic. (“It was do that or go crazy,” he says.) In the wake of the Rwandan genocide, he worked for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. His longest stretch with any single organization came with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, for which he served as senior Africa specialist and then executive director.

“I feel blessed that things have progressed to the point where LGBT rights are an accepted part of the international human rights discourse,” Johnson says, “and I think I’ve played a small role in that.”

Today Johnson is director of programs in the West African nation of Mali for CARE, whose mission includes providing food and water to families displaced by fighting in the northern part of the country, trying to keep girls in school, and helping farmers increase their crop yields. “We work from a very gender-focused point of view,” Johnson says. "We're a gender justice organization, and that fits in really well with what I learned at Sarah Lawrence.”