If you asked Livia Rose Johnson a couple of weeks ago what she'd be doing now, she would have never seen herself up behind the podium, talking at a Black Lives rally. Just a couple of weeks ago, Johnson was someone who trembled at the thought of having to speak in public. The 20-year-old said to Vogue, "I never thought I'd be an activist or step out of my comfort zone."
Born and raised in Brooklyn's Crown Heights, Johnson is a passionate member of the Black Lives Matter movement, as she helped lead and organize Warrior in the Garden, a young New York City group that was created in the wake of George Floyd's death due to police brutality.
Three weeks prior, Johnson was at a subdued and somewhat dull rally at Union Square. "This group of people was [basically] whispering, so [fellow Warrior] Chiara [Williams] and I just took charge," she said. "I took the microphone and I started chanting at the top of my lungs, and then people started to slowly join the crowd. I was like, Okay, I can do this. This is kind of crazy, but I know what I'm doing." But she knew exactly what she was doing. Johnson not only needed to stand up for herself but also for her two younger brothers, aged one and seven.
As the Warrior in the Garden began to form slowly, Johnson worked behind the scene effortlessly, in hopes of using the group's passion and drive to motivate rallies and bring awareness. At the last protest, Johnson stood on a pedestal yelling, "No justice, no peace!" all while wearing her warrior outfit of knee-long braids, a crop top, and baggy jeans. "It's my warrior outfit," says Johnson, "I wouldn't feel comfortable going [to protests] in jeans and a T-shirt; it's just not me," she explains. "I've been dressing like this to express myself for so long, and I feel so much right now that there's no other way I could be dressing. I'm most comfortable in these eccentric outfits doing what I do best, which is fighting for Black lives."
Through her fashion and red and black braids with Black Lives Matter beads, Johnson found herself. As Johnson is the daughter of Nigerian and Irish parents, she received her fair share of bullying. "It took me a while to love my hair," she recalled. In school, she was called "Oreo" by the other kids; however, it wasn't until 2016, when her aunt encouraged her to experiment with her hair and find herself. "I felt like I completed myself," she said.
With the help of her aunt, Johnson has continued her journey, experimenting with fashion, hairstyles, and make-up. "As a very small person, it accentuates my being; it makes my personality scream louder," she said. During the protests, Johnson avoids wearing make-up as it can bond to the chemical irritants used to tear gas. But she still likes to slip in a lip color here and there while making her voice heard. "In general, as a woman, we are not listened to as much as we could be, so I feel like wearing a bold color—paired with speaking assertively—makes people listen to you," she said.
Even though Johnson spends a lot of time on the streets as an activist for the Black Lives Matter movement, she also makes sure to carve out some self-care time. "It's hard. It's very, very hard... I feel like the only difference between before I considered myself an activist, and now is that I'm just more tired." To help her get over the "world is collapsing" feeling, she wakes up every morning and lists ten things she's grateful for. Johnson also uses therapy, reading, a manifestation board, and meditation to help her reconnect with herself. "At the end of the day, if I'm unable to take care of myself, I'm unable to take care of anyone at the protest," she explains. "We are the organizers; we need to take care of every single [person] there."
Johnson knows that as the New York City starts to reopen, the protests will slowly die down, but she will still dedicating her time to the cause as will her other Warrior members. "I'm trying to work on how to pivot from physical protesting and the adrenaline rush to an equally emotional digital protest," she says. As she's a student studying Neuromarketing at Sarah Lawrence College, she's hoping to use her education to help her cause. "There's a lot of space to educate and to motivate... I want to [achieve] a better life and teach everybody how to get there with me."