15 Most Interesting Seniors 2010: Dara A. B. Johnson
Most people know Dara A. B. Johnson ’10 as one of the founders of La Vie, the newest female final club on campus and an organization that has made huge strides in just one year. In a social scene dominated for years by an exclusive group of a few clubs, La Vie has already started to rival the likes of the Bee and the Isis.
Close friend Chase Russell ’11 cites his first time meeting Dara as a testament to her outgoing nature.
“We were both in the Quincy dining hall, and she looked at me and said, ‘Boy, what are you doing alone? Come sit with me!’ I thought she was crazy and fun and was excited to become part of her craziness,” recalls Russell.
Despite her assertive personality and outgoing reputation, there is much more to this entrepreneur than fierce social skills. Born in Ibadan, Nigeria, Johnson spent most of her earlier years there until she moved to England for high school. As a freshman in Canaday, Johnson felt different from her peers, and although she was involved in a slew of activities, including minority recruitment for the Harvard Republican Club and Christian Impact, she certainly felt the weight of adjusting to Harvard life.
“When I first got to Harvard it was difficult for me, because it was a very different environment. I was black, but I didn’t feel like I was from Africa, nor was I African-American. People would ask me, ‘Why are you Nigerian with an English accent?’ It was weird always having to explain myself, and I was constantly feeling a need to conform to something or to be somebody,” explains Johnson.
Johnson persevered and went on to establish a name and a place for herself on campus. Initially an economics concentrator, she ended up switching to African and African American Studies and went on to found Project Unveil in Nigeria this summer, which uses theater as a tool for social change to help girls from low-income families develop a passion for learning.
“Once when I was in a salon in Nigeria, I witnessed a lady beating up a little girl who was her maid and only nine years old. This shocked me, and I didn’t know how to respond. Then she came in with a DVD titled ‘Jennifer’ and went from beating her maid to hugging her in a matter of minutes. This scene made me incredibly interested is this culture of maid-servant relationships,” Johnson recalls.
“I did some research and found that a lot of girls were dropping out and becoming servants with the ultimate goal of acting.,” she says. “So I founded Project Unveil to encourage these girls to move from being ambivalent to education to becoming passionate about it through theater.”
In addition to theater, Johnson has been executive producer for Eleganza, fundraising over $60,000 for the show and even donating $10,000 from her own pocket. Working on the show fueled her interest in fashion even more, and Johnson is currently working on establishing her own fashion line. “It’s called Bonheur, like my middle name,” explains Johnson. “But my friend said I have to change it because it sounds like bone her…but I want it to be clothing for the sexy professional female worker.”
As if that weren’t enough, Johnson also sings and is recording on her own album, which she describes as an eclectic mix of country, pop, soul, and alternative.
Johnson’s motto for herself—and the club she founded—is “la vie en rose.”