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Interview

‘Thank You’

‘We all need a pat on the back,’ says the 2015 emcee of the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala

By Nicholas Sella

 

Anne-Marie Johnson is an actress, activist, unionist, the daughter of a teacher, and product of public education. She starred on television in What’s Happening Now! and In the Heat of the Night, and was the first vice president of the Screen Actors Guild. She recently emceed the NEA Foundation’s Salute to Excellence in Education Gala, and we talked with her about her support of public education and the importance of labor unions.

Why do you support public education?

Because it’s all I know. I am the product of public education from kindergarten through college. Everything I’ve learned was through the public system, not any private institution. I believe I received an incredible public education. I’ve had a very successful life both professionally and personally—based on the foundation of my public education experience.

Did you have any educators who impacted your life in a big way?

I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and there was a lot going on socially—both locally and nationally—and my teachers kept us involved through conversation, current events, and reading the newspaper. Starting from the fourth grade on, it was really a proactive and “hands on” type of education. I realized very early in my life that I was getting some of the best instruction I could possibly have. I knew I wanted to be an actor very young and I was fortunate to be surrounded by supportive teachers. Only once—and it was in college, was I told I should consider going into another field. Never in elementary, junior high, or high school was I discouraged. I was encouraged, supported, and guided. I was also encouraged to find my strength in other areas to make sure I was a well-rounded performer.

Why do you think it is important to celebrate excellent educators?

I think we all would like to be acknowledged for the good work that we do. Teachers more so than any other profession that deals with the public get the short end of the stick when it comes to acknowledgement. Not that teachers enter the education world to be acknowledged—but we all need a pat on the back. I think it’s important to acknowledge the good deeds done by those who assist the public.

Why is it important to support labor unions?

In the history of America, unions secured the middle class existence and without unions we wouldn’t have a middle class. What’s so sad—and I blame unions for this, we haven’t educated the work force with regard to the need, support, and positive benefits of being a union member. Unions are a major part of my life—and my family’s life, and I wouldn’t have the security I have now if it hadn’t been for the Screen Actors Guild.

In closing, what would you say to a public school educator?

I think ‘thank you’ is the most important and appropriate thing—really a huge “thank you.” I received an incredible education and I would say “thank you” to all those who were responsible for that great education I received.

 

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