Adrienne Joi Johnson’s first taste of acting occurred in 1988, when she played the “Girl in the Window,” in the Spike Lee joint, School Daze. Unbeknownst to many, she was the original choreographer for the Flygirls on Keenan Ivory Wayans’ In Living Color. For many of us, the first introduction to AJ Johnson was the cult classic film House Party as Tisha Campbell’s down to earth friend Sharane. She had us at Kool-Aid flavors— “Red or purple” to be exact. Johnson’s star power and homegirl quality transcended the silver screen. At that moment, we understood she was ours. She was one of us. She spoke our language; wore her hair like us, rolled her neck like we did, moved her body to music in the ways many of us wanted to. Black girls who grew up in proletariat households saw themselves in Sharene. She was not Denise Huxtable and we didn’t want her to be.
Johnson was no Claire Huxtable either. As the vulnerable Juanita in John Singleton’s 2001 hit movie Baby Boy, she portrayed the challenges and breakthroughs of single Black mothers navigating adulthood and raising young Black men. Johnson held a mirror up to the often dragged demographic, and showed us that their circumstances did not define them, that they could change the trajectory of their lives, thus find joy and peace almost anywhere but most importantly—inside themselves.
As an actress, Spelman graduate and soror of Delta Sigma Theta, Johnson’s lived experiences differ from her iconic characters. However, their spirit is much aligned. Johnson is very much the ultimate sister-friend in your head. She has high energy and her standards are just as high. Her aspirations have always been to live life worth living and to the fullest and at her personal best and she has not wavered. It’s a goal Johnson wants everyone to aspire toward. After years of being a life coach, Johnson brings her practice to television on TV ONE’s Life Therapy and she sat down with MADAMENOIRE to discuss how she gets it done.
MADAMENOIRE: I’d like to talk about this black woman experience that you keep offering us time and time again. My introduction to you was House Party. I was a child then. But listen, I have never parted ways with Sherane and the infamous red Kool-Aid scene. You appeared in other sitcoms, then you just exploded as Juanita in Baby Boy with yet another offering Black womanhood.
Those roles stayed with me and I think many Black women held onto Juanita in our adulthood. You keep evolving and now, here you are introducing masses to your Life Therapy program. We’ve had you in our adolescence, as young adults going into womanhood and understanding what motherhood is like and what liberation is where motherhood and womanhood intersect. Let’s rewind a little bit and talk about the impetus for you becoming a life coach.
AJ Johnson: Well, before I even say that, I got to tell you that you are probably the first person to present my life and career in this really amazing way through your life. Basically, just saying that you had me in your adolescence. I helped you grow up as a young woman. And now here I am imparting my wisdom and my experiences in the form of a life coach. I think that’s such a blessing to me that I’ve been built to be able to do that across your life. Know that it’s a bigger gift to me than it will probably ever be to you?
I might have to challenge you on that one.
Well, it’s emotional for me because I never thought that I would want my legacy to be. Now, in this short couple of weeks doing press for Life Therapy and launching the show, I’m starting to feel like the answer is, I want people to be able to say what you say. I want people to be able to say that I help their lives in some form or shape or at some point because my whole adult life has been in this business. So, I take that as a compliment. But I also take that as a large responsibility.
I did know I was aware that a lot of African American women, young and old, looked at me as a role model. I knew that. I knew that I learned that as the brown skin girl on House Party and I know we’ll go back to that. But I was very much aware that I was being called to be an influencer before we had influencers.
I can identify dates and moments in my life where your presence has impacted me. So, when you say that you now get to do this collectively, I’m like you’re ahead of the game. You’ve been doing this.
Well, to answer your question, I have to say a lot of it is not by choice. When you ask, how did I go from there to here? I really feel like I was built to do this because let’s look at a couple of compartments:
I studied chemistry and psychology at Spelman, graduated with honors, and so I’ve always been a science mind. I’ve always studied behavior. I’ve always been a seeker of truth. I pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and incorporated at Spelman. So, the introduction of strong, consistent, unwavering sisterhood has always existed.
When I say that at a very young age, I learned what sisterhood really was and what it looked like and what it talked like. So, now you move into the area of my life where I’m looking to be my happiest. I’m looking to be my best self. I’m looking for relationships that matter and support me, relationships that are my wind and not my cement. Friend relationships, family relationships, interpersonal relationships with men and so on, seeking that level of joy and peace and happiness, I just became adamant about what doesn’t work, doesn’t stay, what doesn’t work for my better self doesn’t stay.
I’ve always known that the valleys are where my lessons came from. I just started paying attention to that fact. That was the consistent thing. Whenever I had a valley or a low point, I started to see where my lessons were. God allows me to get in this valley so that I can grab my lesson and climb out. What I feel a lot of us do—which gets into me wanting to share and to coach—is have a tendency to want to set up a house in the valley. We’ll go to Target and get curtains and candlesticks and new bedding and throw rugs and pillows. No, the valley is not your destiny. It’s just where you grab your lesson. So, I felt like every time I had a life success, every time I could climb out of that valley from that relationship break up from that job I didn’t get, from that argument, from that misunderstanding between friends, from everything that we all go through—I felt like every time I had a successful elevation from that low, I was onto something and it just became a formula. It just became my formula. I was like, I got to share this with my sisters. I got to share this. So, here we are.
I appreciate what you said about knowing where your lessons are. Beyond that point, what I hear and witness is that many women want that thing you exude. The peace, the happiness, the learned lessons. What you said really strikes a chord. That chord is intention, being intentional about learning lessons. I think that’s the thing that we often miss and I’m hoping you go into that specifically, by showing how to be intentional because you can get stuck in the valley when you don’t know how to get out. When you’re going through low moments it’s like a boulder is dropped in your bra and will keep you there.
I’m going to tell you that’s one of my favorite words, intention. Even when we were creating as executive producer of Life Therapy, when I would have meetings with the episode producers, the first thing I would ask when they would tell me we found this great story. I would always say, “okay, so what’s the intention of this episode? When I’m with clients when they’re trying to make life choices or decisions, I have questions about intention.
The first thing I ask is, “what’s your intention when you wear that dress? What’s your intention with that hairstyle, what you’re trying to get across? What’s your intention?” So, I love that you’re saying that because I feel like I live strategically and intentionally towards my elevated self, and that’s what you’re watching. And now that’s what I get a chance to share with you, how I do it, right? My tools, techniques and other lightworkers. So, now I get an expanded territory and a bigger platform to share with more people.
Who are these people? Who is this show for?
This show is for anyone who may feel like they can’t better themselves on their own. This show is for someone who may have been afraid of the word therapy or who is afraid of therapy, who doesn’t know what therapy is. People get a chance to understand that fun conversation that AJ has on Instagram is therapy. It’s for anybody who understands that life is going to have curveballs and twists and turns and valleys. None of us can deal with all of that, especially in such a time as this. Some of us can’t deal with all that completely on our own. So, we’re going to get added support. We’re going to go somewhere safe to just talk it out and try to get other opinions on how to live your best self. That’s who and what the show is for.
You’ve talked about rocking royalty in Life Therapy, because when I think about rocking royalty, I’m thinking about lifting yourself up, not just lifting yourself up but staying up. Would you speak to that?
When you call me or you call the AJ Zone for any of my coaches, you’re calling because you want to and you’re ready to be elevated. You’re ready to be lifted up or you want to be lifted up and you don’t know how to climb. That’s why you call the AJ Zone. We technically meet you where you are. But the whole plan is that we then together decide and design what your elevation looks like, what your goals are, what’s your timeframe to reach them. Then we literally map out strategically and intentionally—there’s your word—we map out how we’re going to get there and we do evaluations.
This is where you come to guarantee your results and again, science mind. I put your markers in place to make sure that we’re reaching the goal. And if the time frame changes and we’re not getting to it, we either shift the goal or shift the time frame. You feel me?
Yeah, I do. What’s different? What sets Life Therapy with you apart from any other program or show or podcast that’s been available to people?
The truth is at this point, now that the show is airing, it really doesn’t matter what I think makes it different. It matters what you think as a viewer that makes it different. I don’t suggest any type of coaching that I haven’t tried myself or I haven’t had success with another client.
I also partner with you. I’m your accountability partner as we move forward. So, whatever you’re doing, I’m doing. So, no matter what the goal is, we’re in it together. You see that we’re in it together, whether it’s physical, nutritional, it doesn’t matter. You see that we’re in it together.
One last thing that I think is also a great example is that I also partner with other lightworkers. I bring them on because I feel like we’re two or more gathered.
Yeah, like when you go to the doctor, you have a whole medical team. You don’t just see a general practitioner. You see a nutritionist, a dentist, the eye doctor, you may see a specialist, and they share records and work to get you to optimal health—collectively.
I’m excited to do that. I’m excited to partner with other amazing minds, spirits and souls to elevate not only just myself but everybody else. I don’t know everything and I don’t want to act like I do. So, I want to collaborate.
It’s good to see that you’re bringing that to the show. And I think it’s so important for black women, black people. Anybody, like you said, tuning to the show to have a total wellness and healing experience. You can’t just work your abs out and expect total fitness, right?
No. Again, let’s remember, life health is financial health, mental health, nutritional health, physical health, relationship health, family health. That’s why we’re calling it Life Therapy. It’s a program. It’s a movement