Every year, KGET and our parent company Nexstar seek out remarkable women in our community to highlight ahead of Women’s History Month. We have narrowed our nominations down to four finalists who are changing lives and giving back to the community of Kern County.
17 News’ Maddie Janssen spoke with finalist Johnitta Clemons.
According to her nomination form, Johnitta Clemons is a Marine Corps veteran and peace officer, a coach, youth mentor, and volunteer. After talking to her, I can also tell you she has an unstoppable energy and unquenchable thirst for life. Here is some of our conversation.
I want to read you a little bit of what your friend Tami wrote about you: “When I heard about this contest, one true-blue rock-steady, drop-dead gorgeous, goddess of goodness came to mind. Someone who epitomizes loyalty, honor and the ironclad definition of sisterhood. Someone hard working driven and yeah, sometimes a bit feisty. Someone whose heart is a beacon of light to those in need offering guidance and support through life’s troubled times. Someone humble. (cut out the interference,) what’s your reaction when you hear your friend describe you like that?
Wow. I’ve known her for a long time and she’s a very open person so she tells you how she feels. But, wow, that, I mean I just feel humbled. Because if you know her, she’s this really incredible person, real loving and caring and all those things she wrote, that’s how I would describe her. So it means a lot and so much more coming from her.
What does it mean to you to be nominated as a remarkable woman in our community?
Well, immediately when you called me, both of my natural parents are deceased but one of the things they always instilled in me and my siblings is we always have to give back more than we take. And my father he drilled that, he said when you leave this earth you want to make sure that you’ve given more than you took from it. When you told me I had been nominated, considered for a finalist, it made me feel proud, that I’m making my parents proud, and my children.
When reading through her nomination and the list of your accomplishments, I was struck by the fact that you were a Marine, and spent time working in the Calif. Dept. of Corrections, you’re no soft cookie, you’re a tough cookie! How did your time as a Marine and peace officer, how did that affect your life?
It’s interesting, I went from Marine Corps to pre-school teacher to Dept/. of Corrections. It was a real big transition and it affected my life because it built a resiliency in me. Because I left my family, I moved to Corcoran, I never heard of Corcoran. And I was very young. I was 21 when I started and you know I grew, it helped me change my financial situation not just for me but for my family. I was from South Central Los Angeles. And I all of my younger cousins once I got into a position where I had a healthy income, I made a deal with all my younger cousins that I would pay for everything their senior year and to get them off to college. And all of them graduated and all of the girls in my generation have now graduated from college. So I feel like going into that environment changing my life, changed the life of a lot of people that I love.
Tell me a little bit about the youth sports program you helped develop and direct and why you are so passionate about mentoring young people.
Well you know it’s funny because I retired from the department of corrections but I always saw myself as a coach who worked at the prison. And it’s funny because a lot of the staff that I supervised actually called me coach and so did a lot of the inmates, so I guess a coach is what you do, it’s not just what you are.
What drives you to do so much and serve your community the way you do?
I feel like being in the position to do it is the blessing. I’m a valley fever survivor and it was really bad I almost didn’t make it. And I guess that just really makes you appreciate life.
Do you have any advice or inspirational words for young women in our community?
I have some classic one that I always say, you have to define your game and you don’t let nobody mess up your game. You commit to your game, anything that hurts your game you include it and if it helps your game you include it. And always choose to be happy.