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Joan Johnson helped ignite black empowerment throughout the South Side

Johnson Products, the first black-owned company, began with a $250 investment, which Joan and her husband turned into a $4 million enterprise by 1967. 

Joan Johnson | Sun-Times file photo CST

The news of Joan Johnson’s death brings back memories of the incredible team that she and her husband, George, were as co-founders and owners of Johnson Products.

Their iconic Ulta Sheen and Afro Sheen black hair products became known and used nationwide in the span of just a few years.

Your Sun-Times article tells about this trailblazing company, beginning with a $250 investment which they turned into a $4 million enterprise by 1967.

Its growth then took off, parallel to their participation in the Business Circle of Operation Breadbasket, which was pulled together by a young charismatic Jesse Jackson and by 1976 they had amassed sales of $40 million!

It is not incidental that Breadbasket covenants with Jewel Tea, National Tea, Walgreens and several other companies included not just a fair share of jobs and contracts for black-owned services such as banking, construction, media and scavengers, but also for black-owned products to be placed on the shelves of cooperating stores.

Ultra Sheen and Afro Sheen were always among the products on the shelves, and Breadbasket Consumer Club members monitored the products and jobs promised in the signed “covenants.”

Other black products also made significant gains in these Breadbasket years (1966-1971), including Parker House Sausage and Grove Fresh Orange Juice, which became multi-million-dollar operations.

Joan and George were generous supporters of Breadbasket and the result was a mutual share of black empowerment for the South Side of Chicago.

Before his assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized this empowerment as one fulfillment of his dream for a just society for all. Let us give thanks for people like the late Joan Johnson and her husband.

Rev. Martin Deppe
Founding member of SCLC Operation Breadbasket
Ravenswood Manor

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Opioid overdoses must be addressed with prevention and treatment

Our country is in the midst of a deadly overdose crisis.

More than 70,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2017 — including 47,600 from opioids such as heroin, prescription opioid analgesics and illicitly manufactured fentanyl.

Despite preliminary estimates that suggest opioid overdose deaths may have decreased in 2018, the number of lives lost to opioid overdose continues at historic levels.

Alarmingly, some states are even seeing an increase in the death rate.

As a nation, we can do better.

In honor of National Recovery Month this September, let’s recommit to a comprehensive, all-hands-on-deck approach to prevent overdose deaths.

This includes making a significant investment in policies that encourage prevention and recovery, strengthen the addiction treatment workforce and increase access to science-based, proven interventions.

Let’s honor the memory of those we’ve lost to overdose deaths with action. Let’s do everything possible to support effective prevention and treatment of addiction and save lives.

Lauralea Thomas, Ravenswood