The May 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer inspired nationwide protests, unprecedented debates over police reform, and, for countless Americans, self-reflection and hard questions about the causes and effects of systemic racism.
For Eric Johnson ’04, those questions “forced me to evaluate what I was contributing to this space.”
Evaluation led to action: This past March, the prime-time newsmagazine Soul of a Nation debuted on ABC, with Johnson as an executive producer and project lead. The six-episode series, the first of its kind, featured an array of stories told through the perspectives of dozens of artists, athletes, and entertainers that “put Black life in America front and center.” But as Johnson emphasized, the aim was to deliver a show with universal appeal. “Black history is American history,” he says. “We’re telling American stories.”
Johnson is proud of the quality of the narratives presented in the series and also in its timing: it premiered in early March — a small, but significant change from Black programming that tends to air in February. “We didn’t want this to be perceived as a Black History Month special,” Johnson says, “like we’re telling Black stories because February says we have to.”
Johnson, who has worked on venerable titles such as Nightline, 20/20, and Good Morning America, recently became executive producer of program development at CNN, where he hopes to contribute more Black storytelling with another major news network.
“I’m excited to build a team that will continue to create and elevate important stories, characters, and content — including diverse narratives — across CNN’s platforms,” he says.
Throughout his career, he’s leaned on his TCNJ experience to help him hone in on important and timely topics that he felt deserved more attention.
“I look at what I did in college with my communication studies major, and the breadth of classes I took in African American studies and women and gender studies, and I absolutely see a connection, like ‘Wow, little Eric Johnson from South Plainfield, New Jersey, figured out how to do this.’”
Johnson says he hopes Soul of a Nation will serve as a jumping off point for him, as well as other producers and networks, “for all types of storytelling that haven’t had enough attention,” he says. “I’m excited to see the next steps beyond this.”
Picture: Peter Murphy