Emily Rose Thorne, media intern
Most Athenians remember the 2015 scandal over General Beauregard’s, the Confederate-themed bar on Clayton St. that closed for days after being caught serving a drink with a racial slur in its name.
People took to the streets of downtown to protest the bar and rally against discrimination. The march drew attention to the poor treatment of minorities among many of Athens' bars and businesses, from explicit racism like the drink's name to subtler practices such as the establishment of exclusionary and presumptuous dress codes.
It was also one of the first major projects organized by local activist Mokah-Jasmine Johnson, for whom "improving race relations [and] addressing systemic racism and discrimination on all levels" are not only goals but primary passions.
Johnson was born in Jamaica and later immigrated to Orlando, Florida. She holds a a Bachelor's degree in Marketing Management and a Master’s in Education, Media Design and Technology from Full Sail University and started her first business, a music marketing and promotions company, at the age of 19.
She moved to Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Knowa in 2010, where they worked as freelance hip-hop media and marketing specialists. They relocated to Athens in 2012 to raise their children and co-founded the United Group of Artists (UGA Live), a special events production, management and marketing business, later that year.
Over time, the couple identified flaws in the Athens music scene in terms of diversity and inclusivity: the music industry has historically prioritized white and male artists over those of other identities, even in a progressive college town like ours.
In response, Mokah and Knowa established the annual Athens Hip Hop Awards (AHHA), a movement for diversifying the types of music and musicians honored in the Classic City. They have maintained the AHHA since its creation through UGA Live, despite resistance from the same unwaveringly rock-focused venues and individuals that neglected hip-hop when the couple first moved to town.
When General Beauregard's offensive drink made the news, Mokah and Knowa joined forces with local social justice organization Athens For Everyone to organize an anti-discrimination march and rally in protest. The demonstration led to the foundation of one of Mokah's most prominent projects: the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement (AADM).
AADM, of which Mokah is currently President, began as a means of protesting discrimination in local businesses and has expanded to include advocacy and education on all issues that threaten fair treatment of and equal opportunity for Athens' community of color. The organization offers various programs such as Every Day Readers, an adult literacy and math skills tutoring initiative, and Civil Rights & Racial Justice, which provides educational resources and workshops tailored to those of marginalized identities.
"I am passionate about knowing and defending my civil rights and helping others do the same," Mokah said.
Mokah founded and operated the VIP Girlz Hip-Hop Dance and Leadership Program from 2013 to 2016 before becoming involved with Girls Rock Athens. She taught a workshop on The History and Culture of Hip-Hop during summer camp 2016 and became the GRA Hip-Hop Director the following year "to help diversify and expand the program."
This year, Mokah said she is "preparing to host a series of GRA Hip Hop workshops and youth activities."
She said she wants to emphasize to young people to never "let your circumstances define you, and [to] stand up and speak out for what you believe in."
Mokah said that she and her husband have received positive responses from the many members of our community who have been influenced by their work.
"I realized that our efforts were truly having an impact on the community because we can see people on various levels making more of an effort to let go of their biased beliefs and include connection with Black and Brown people in the process," Mokah said. "On a daily basis, both black and white people come up to my husband and me to thank us for making a positive impact in the community."
Mokah's first book, Spirit of an Activist: Stop Sitting on the Sidelines was released Feb. 21. Only 150 hard copies will be printed.
"Spirit of an Activist tells the story of Mokah-Jasmine Johnson from her early days as a Jamaican immigrant in the United States to her recent work in building the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement in response to racial injustices in her hometown and nationwide. Part survival manual, part manifesto for the examined life and part biography, Spirit of an Activist is, above all, an honest and searching book that will inspire readers to actualize their potential as citizens during these desperate and politically fraught times. Mokah’s is the voice of wisdom and experience, leadership, and love, with a parting message that we are all bound together as neighbors, no matter our differences."
"I want to inspire people to take control of their circumstances and step out on faith and get involved in their community," Mokah said of her motivations to write the book.