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Mel Gravely

My Song, My Story: Head Start Journey from Child, Parent to Employee

Ernest JohnsonBy: Ernest M. Johnson II, FSW, BS, MBA

Ernest would like to thank the following people for his great success! “My Parents: Ernest Sr. & Apostle Linda Russell (R.I.P.) my children: Alicia, Little Ernest & Tyler, Staff of Operation Breakthrough Head Start & Rockingham County Head Start, Nancy Pierce Garrett, Marisa Stroud-Gaither, My Family Worker-Shirley Brooks, Sandra Lee-Cunningham, Donald Barringer, Jimmy Lewis, Sheila Bazemore & The NC Fatherhood Development Advisory Council & LouMecia Koonce. All of these individuals believed in me.”

My Story: I do not remember much as a child in Head Start. I do remember mama getting me ready for school and dropping me off. I remember going outside to the playground, story telling, arts & crafts and for some strange reason, eating baked spaghetti. I can’t tell you that I was in an impoverished state at that time because my mom and dad both were employed. Times were tough as with many families. I am one of 5 siblings, 3rd born, youngest of three boys and with two younger sisters. Mama stated that I was very impressionable, had a vivid imagination and liked to explore and “wander off”.

I was formally introduced to the head start program in 1995. My daughter, Alicia, was enrolled into Operation Breakthrough Head Start Inc. My wife (at the time) and I were active parents, when time permitted, as I was mostly working and she was expecting our second child, Ernest III. When “Lil Ernest” was in enrolled in head start, I was joined a group called the Proud Fathers Club and became very active. The momentum of activities were building as my third child came along; Tyler Christopher. I was now assisting with the coordination of fatherhood activities. I even sang at a couple of events. Who would have known that one day, the people I was working with as a parent, would one day become coworkers and colleagues.

My Song: January 2006, I am now the lone male Family Services Worker (FSW) in a head start program of 400 plus children with a case of about 50 to 102. I quickly become friends with co-worker who had shown me the ropes. My supervisor felt that I would be the right fit for the fatherhood program, not because, I was the only male FSW at the time, but because of my involvement as a parent. She made it possible for me to grow in the fatherhood initiative as she saw the passion that I had as a parent and a Family Service Worker. Since then, I was allowed every opportunity to meet top head start officials, attend conferences, join a statewide fatherhood council and even become a second vice-chair. I completed both undergrad and graduate degrees while operating in the capacity of a FSW and fatherhood coordinator. I have received numerous awards in fatherhood initiatives; I have fought for my dads to have a chance in a world where it seems as though the laws were written to protect just woman and children. Presently I am 10 months into the position of Family Service Manager in Rockingham County Head Start in Wentworth, North Carolina. It is a very different environment from the larger city of Durham, NC. Everything in very rural and resources are few, but it only makes my job more exciting as I step up to the challenge of providing quality services to children and families. I recently conducted my first of many fatherhood/motherhood planning meetings. From what I understand, this has never been done before and the awareness and momentum is building.

As I continue to sing my song here, every verse will be filled with higher heights and deeper depths of challenges and accomplishments. I want to be an example to our children, our families… heck!!! I’m going to say it – even to OUR MEN! Many do not realize it but we are the first nurturers to the children. I have had children in the program to randomly tell me they love me just because I read a book to them or get teary eyed when I leave a classroom. It’s just that somewhere over time, we have lost our way and need to reclaim and re-hone the skills. So until then, I will continue to sing my song. Will you sing yours?


  1. Walter harris says:

    Great job Ernest my brother.

  2. Ernest M. Johnson II, FSW, MBA says:

    You when work under a manager who believes in you and your vision…it makes the task of working with fathers easier than just viewing it as a job

    • Donald B says:

      Awesome journey and story. I remember well your journey and am honored to be acknowledged as being a part of your life and professional career. We have had many conversations about our paths and how He always knows what’s best for us. I’m glad that you’re sharing your gifts and talents with those who were waiting on someone like you to come into their life. Be blessed and know that I’m always here for you and if you ever need me to Skype in from Michigan, I will.

      • Julia Ross Dowl says:

        ,I am happy for you Ernest keep up the good work that you are doing.

        • Cheryl Mitchell says:

          Beautifully. #nufsaid

          • Gabrielle Johnson says:

            Awesome! We as females sometime downplay the role of males in the lives and households of children. It is imperative to a child’s growth and development that positive male role models are present. You sir, are one. Congrats on your accomplishments.

          • Faye Wilson says:

            I was quite happy to read this email. I am a family involvement worker with a local public school system and I constantly encouraging our schools to develop a specific outreach to fathers – to THINK of ways in which fathers can be involved and to PLAN for father-focused events.

            I would love to hear more about specific ways in which you have been able to reach out to and engage men in their children’s academic (and social) success.


          • Ernest M. Johnson II, FSW, MBA says:

            Thank you all for the encouragement…you all are in my heart.

          • Ernest Dickens says:

            This is great My friend! Keep on keeping on. Very proud of you. I too work for a head start program and am currently involved with putting together fatherhood programs. Perhaps we can form a partnership?

          • Ernest M. Johnson II, FSW, MBA says:

            Ernest…we need to make that happen.

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