In 1994 Yolanda Johnson, at 21 years old, was convicted on charges of money laundering, and sentenced to 51 months in federal prison.
After dropping out of university in 1992, Yolanda moved to the city, and got mixed in with the wrong crowd. When a drug dealer asked her to go to the Bahamas to deposit money, Yolanda thought she had scored herself a vacation, but the outcome was very different.
While in prison, another inmate taught Johnson how to do manicures. She used the little money she had to buy supplies, and started offering manicures to other inmates.
Now 48, Johnson owns her own salon, the Nail and Skin Bar on Park Avenue, and plans on giving back. She wants to teach other formerly incarcerated women how to turn their past mistakes into a trade. She’s starting a school to train them as manicurists.
Luckily, Yolanda has the help of Adriane Johnson-Williams, Girls Inc’s 2020 Woman of the Year.
Through her company, Standpoint Consulting, Johnson-Williams is helping Johnson to raise money to help train six former offenders as manicurists at Johnson’s salon. Johnson-Williams, who is a client of Johnson’s, said the idea of starting the school emerged as Johnson described it as a dream of hers.
Black women ex-offenders experience the highest levels of unemployment, at 43.6 percent. That compares to 35.2 percent for Black men ex-offenders, 23.2 percent for white women ex-offenders and 18.4 percent for white men ex-offenders. As well, when women of color are able to get jobs, the work is often part-time, which makes it easier for many of them to give up and turn to crime again.
That’s one reason why Johnson wants to teach women a trade. While a beginning manicurist may make around $20,000, once that manicurist builds a clientele, her salary can rise to $60,000, Johnson said. Also, because a manicurist can set her own hours, even if she does work another part-time job, she can make a decent yearly income.
“They can also open up their own salons and have a real life without looking over their shoulder,” Johnson said.
Said Johnson-Williams: “I think Yolanda is a great example, and in my business, one of the things I have to help people understand is that whatever problems you’re trying to solve, whatever systems you’re trying to change, we aren’t going to change them without people like Yolanda…
“We need to involve people who have lived with the challenges she has lived with, who is willing to step up, because without that experience in the room, then we’re all sitting there pretending that we know what we’re talking about.”