Since her graduation from Marygrove College, Sharnita Johnson has worked on both sides of the philanthropy business
— raising money and giving it away. Her expertise in both areas is highly sought after.
Professor Frank Rashid recalls a workshop he and Professor Barbara Johns, IHM, attended in the late 1990s for organizations seeking funding from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs. “We weren’t surprised to see Sharnita there -- after all, we knew she was a grants officer for MCACA, but we were rather amazed at the way everyone deferred to her. The tables had turned: Once upon a time, she had been asking us if we needed anything and quietly hoping for A’s from us. Now, a decade later, we were asking her for advice on our proposals and quietly hoping for funding from her.”
He adds, “I was so impressed with Sharnita that, after I became department chair, I invited her to serve on a panel composed of successful English major alumni who speak about career paths to our present students. Her talk was informative and entertaining, spiced with good, practical advice and self-deprecating humor. As she candidly discussed lessons she learned the hard way, she demonstrated the importance of discipline and persistence. She showed students how to profit from criticism, how to continue to learn after graduation, and how to set their own course in adapting the English major to a professional career. I could not have asked for a better role model for our students.”
Sharnita presently manages a $10 million grant portfolio for the Skillman Foundation, a Michigan foundation devoted to improving the lives of children. As a program officer, she is in charge of all elements of the foundation’s Culture and Arts and Youth Development Grantmaking including, evaluation, communications and building the capacity of grant recipients. The current trend in philanthropy is to work with grantees to help them effectively use grant funds and provide them with any technical assistance they need. Recently, Skillman concentrated on six Detroit neighborhoods making them good places for children to achieve their goals in a safe environment. Sharnita administers grants in two Detroit areas, the North End and Osborn neighborhoods.
From 2001 to 2004, Sharnita managed a $3.3 million grant portfolio in the arts, culture, community engagement and beautification for the Flint-based Private Family Foundation. Her work included proposal analysis and funding recommendations to the board as well as monitoring grant performance. Thanks to this grant, a 52-foot mural, painted by renowned artist Hubert Massey, is displayed in downtown Flint as a tribute to the city’s history.
On the fundraising side of giving, Sharnita has worked for Detroit Public Television, Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts and the Museum of African American History (now the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History). Bridget Lomax, who worked with Sharnita at the museum from 1992 to 1994, comments, “She understood that in order to be effective in her job as a fund raiser, she had to connect with the organization’s mission and be respectful of those invested in it. In short order, she became viewed as someone whose knowledge and expertise were sought after.”
This year, Sharnita completed a Master of Public Administration at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. She also earned a certificate in Magazine Publishing Procedures at Howard University, Wash., D.C.
“It is extremely humbling to be recognized by an institution that means so much to me personally and to the City of Detroit,” says Sharnita on being named a Distinguished Alumna. “As I reflect, the college was an oasis where I felt a sense of belonging. I entered Marygrove directly out of high school but had classmates of all ages and backgrounds,” she adds.
She is a member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra—New Leaders and is Vice President of Heritage Works. She serves on the board of Grassroots Grantmakers, a national organization. She was a member of the selection committee for the Governor’s Awards for Arts and Culture in 2003 and 2006. She offers her expertise in fundraising and in grant making to many community-based organizations. Sharnita is a lifelong Detroiter and is very committed to its future.