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Screenwriting graduate finds strength in amplifying voices of the marginalized

Ally Johnson poses in front of CBS Studios in Los Angeles
Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media graduate student Ally Johnson stands in front of CBS Studios in Los Angeles during her 10-week LA Quarter. Following her graduation in June, Johnson will work on the network's daytime talk show, "The Talk." (Ally Johnson)

One in a series of stories about DePaul University's Class of 2022

Ally Johnson started working toward her Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting at DePaul during a difficult moment in time – amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, and as millions demonstrated in outrage following the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other people of color.

Ally Johnson
Ally Johnson is a 2022 graduate of the Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media. (Image courtesy of Ally Johnson)

At a tumultuous point in time, Johnson, an Indianapolis native, found a home in the School of Cinematic Arts in DePaul's Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media. With support from her professors and classmates, she channeled her emotions and thoughts into the screenwriting program to share the stories of marginalized communities – particularly stories of radical Black joy.

“CDM was a place where you mattered," Johnson says. “This was a safe place to make art that helped me make sense of the things we were experiencing. I came to the realization that, in the darkest moments, laughter could still prevail. In spite of it all, joy can prevail."

Johnson will cross the commencement stage on June 11 with fellow graduates prepared by their DePaul experiences to serve a changing world. Equipped with professional screenwriting skills and a commitment to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, she already started her full-time job on "The Talk," CBS's Emmy award-winning daytime talk show.

At DePaul, Johnson found inspiration in the university's guiding Vincentian question, “What must be done?" In addition to her coursework and participation in CDM's 10-week LA Quarter, Johnson served as the social media and communications specialist in DePaul's Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships. The office is rooted in addressing critical problems, alleviating poverty and promoting social justice.

“Ally has been critical in providing the substance that tells that Egan story," says John Zeigler, director of the Egan Office and a mentor to Johnson. “She immediately embraced our values and began crafting a vision with a newly formed communication team that reflected the 'Egan Way.'"

During the pandemic while Chicago community students were learning remotely, she collaborated with Chicago Public Schools to produce the YouTube series Egan Reads. The series, geared towards young CPS students, featured Egan employees reading children's books on camera for Black History Month and Women's History Month. Johnson said it also gave students the chance to hear stories and see characters that looked like them. It reminded every student that they, too, could follow their dreams and find joy in the most unlikely of places.

“I believe that when you see it, you can be it," Johnson says. “Growing up in Indy, I loved TV and media, but so many times they weren't telling the stories of people who looked like me or experienced what I experienced. I want to share the stories of Black women like my mom, grandma and two older sisters."

Her favorite Egan Reads episode focused on the life and career of Kamala Harris, the country's first woman and first woman of color to serve as vice president.

Johnson credits her professors and Ziegler for encouraging her ideas. “They gave me permission to tell the stories that were in my heart," Johnson says. “It was never 'no, that's a bad idea' or 'that won't work.' They always supported me and helped me find a way to make what I was doing even better."

As she moves to the next phase in her life, she is encouraging her classmates to commit to the same question that will drive her future work: “What must be done?"