When Allen Johnson Jr. ’23 first arrived to campus four years ago, he was immediately drawn to the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies and to the students who called it their “home away from home.”
“I saw the Malcolm X Institute as my safe haven,” said the Indianapolis Public Schools graduate and Wabash Liberal Arts Immersion Program participant. “It was this place where I saw people who looked like me, talked like me, acted like me, and that brought me comfort on a predominantly white campus.
“You hear a lot about the brotherhood at Wabash,” he said, “and the MXIBS was the first place where I really felt a part of that.”
Johnson said one of the reasons he chose to come to Wabash was because of its promise to challenge and push students outside of their comfort zones.
Through his involvement with the MXIBS over the years, the psychology major and Black studies minor said he’s learned how to embrace vulnerability and engage in challenging conversations, especially surrounding topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
“A lot of learning comes from disagreeing with people and listening to different ideas,” said Johnson, former MXIBS chairman and current membership committee co-chair.
“Having those difficult conversations with each other has definitely been one of the tougher things to do, especially because you don’t want come off too strong and speak over people, and you also don’t want to say nothing. You have to find a balance,” he continued. “Looking back to who I was freshman year, I’ve really been able to see myself grow.”
Johnson has distinguished himself at Wabash through a variety of campus leadership roles and academic achievement.
In addition to the MXIBS, he’s also a four-year member of the Wabash golf team, Student Senate’s Mental Health Concerns Committee and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). He also works as a senior peer career advisor for Career Services and a server for Bon Appetit Catering.
“We talk about transforming boys into men, and that’s clearly happened with AJ,” said MXIBS Director Steven Jones ’87. “It’s been rewarding to see his transformation from this shy kid to an outgoing man and leader. His sense of respect for people, when you think about our mission, he embodies all of that.”
Johnson’s impact has spread beyond the MXIBS and campus. He’s also dedicated time to giving back to the Crawfordsville community by participating in activities ranging from volunteering at local food pantries to picking up trash across the county.
“All students that get accepted here have the ability, it’s a question of whether or not they have the desire to do the things that will help make their community a better place,” Jones said. “AJ was never afraid to try and put in the work. He was always willing to extend himself.”
Johnson said his goal has been to make the campus and surrounding community a better place for future Little Giants.
“I really wanted to build that bridge between the MXIBS, campus, and the greater Crawfordsville community, and cultivate change where students of color can come here from different places and feel like they belong,” Johnson explained. “My goal, and the goal of the institute, is to make sure that all students feel comfortable and safe. I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re just another number.”
Associate Professor of History Sabrina Thomas called Johnson a “natural leader,” one who his peers look up.
“He is introspective, thoughtful, invested,” she said. “When he talks, others listen and appreciate what he has to say.”
Thomas said she’s proud of the senior’s accomplishments in the last four years.
“A place like Wabash offered him an opportunity to grow in ways that I’m not sure would have happened at a bigger campus. That being said, Wabash is also challenging for Black students in particular, and in the moments that AJ’s had to live through here,” Thomas explained. “For him to be able to come out of that on the other side and lead in a positive light is a testament to his character and to his ability to navigate the world in ways that will be successful.”
After graduation, Johnson will be attending Ball State University and pursuing a master’s degree in student affairs administration in higher education.
“I’m blessed to have had people around me at Wabash — my coaches, professors, staff — who challenged me, pushed me, and held me accountable to make sure I was reaching my full potential,” Johnson said. “I want to give back and do the same for other students. I want to be the college director, dean, president, who sets the example and shows other students of color that they have potential to lead a successful life.”