By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Valencia “Mrs. V” Johnson gives herself a daily reminder: “I’m a wise woman, and I make great decisions.”
“When I’m brushing my teeth, when I’m doing my hair, I remind myself,” she said.
Johnson, 47, is a comedian, empowerment speaker, minister, and playwright. She’s also a mother of six. Now that all her children are adults and out of the house, she has more time to focus on her career, which includes recently renting a charter bus and riding to a mountain in Huntsville with a group of women for what she calls her “Freedom Ride.” The inaugural ride was held in early June, and another is planned for July 15.
“It was so empowering,” Johnson said. “They prayed over my husband and me. The view was amazing, and the women had a great time.”
During the Freedom Ride, women listened as Mrs. V. gave tips on marriage, finances, and health. One of the women on the bus reminded Johnson about a Girls Night that Johnson held in her apartment, during which she put on plays in the living room.
“There were women who had been supporting me for a long time,” said Mrs. V.
Overcoming It All
Mrs. V, who is from West End and attended West End High School, doesn’t believe in excuses. In fact, she tells people with excuses to come and talk to her. She remembered grabbing her children and fleeing from an abusive relationship multiple times.
“Being married to a drug addict and an abusive man wasn’t the easiest thing, but I hid in my writing and my comedy because it was like a shield for me,” she said. “Comedy and my personality saved me. My laughter hasn’t just been a rescue for other people, it’s been a rescue and safety zone for me.”
Recently named Birmingham Metro National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Community Contributor of the Year, Johnson endured a number of horrific events in her life: abuse, fighting, evictions. Her children kept her strong.
“It made me look at someone else’s needs,” Mrs. V said. “Babies can’t do for themselves, and there were many times when I was running from abuse with all of my babies clustered up on my back, my sides, in my arms, running from a hell that I would eventually go right back to.”
Mrs. V stayed married to her ex-husband for 21 years before divorcing him in 2007: “I finally woke up from the trance I was in for a long time. The very thing I preach now is knowing your worth.”
“I just looked at those little kids and said, ‘I’ve got to be something for them,’” she said. “Not only am I going to be something for them, but I am going to do something for myself because that’s the only way I’m going to get the victory I deserve. Instead of allowing my misery to be an excuse to quit, I used my misery for a message. I used it for my ministry. I empowered people, and preached, and spoke through all the hell and hardship.”
Another hurdle for Mrs. V: The death of her first child, Ebony, who died of a head injury at age 5.
“She fell on the playground at school and hit her head,” Mrs. V said. “She died in the bed with me. It was one of the most horrific events in my life. I thought she was awake because her eyes were open. I said ‘Ebony, get up it’s time for school,’ and realized that Ebony was gone.”
Ebony died of cerebral edema, she said.
“You would have thought at that point that all bets were off, but something in me got more amped to be a drum major for joy and life. Ebony was an angelic force for me. I had seven babies, but I still wrote plays.”
Those plays, which include “Heaven’s Grocery Store” and “Bonita the Bag Lady,” also helped her deal with the abuse she faced.
“There was no telling when my ex-husband would take all of the money and be gone,” she said. “Still, I had to maintain the structure of our family.”
Mrs. V is now happily remarried since 2010 to Edward “Big Ed” Johnson, who was her high school sweetheart and Ebony’s father. She said it’s like being married to her best friend. The couple has a show on 99.9 The Plug FM, an online radio network.
“My husband and I used to do Facebook videos, and the owner of The Plug radio saw us and thought we were hilarious,” she said. “We talk about everything dealing with life and truth. We talk about infidelity, politics, sports.”
Keeping it in the Family
Nothing gives Mrs. V more joy than her children—Dondi, 29; Dominique, 27; Donesha, 25; Deonta, 22; Donaje, 21; and Devontae, 19—who’ve told their mom that she always did a good job of hiding their poverty or whatever she was going through.
“There would be times we would come home, open the door, and the TV or the washing machine would be missing because my ex-husband sold it. I would immediately distract my children,” Mrs. V said through tears. “I would say, ‘Come on y’all, let’s play a game,’ and they wouldn’t even realize that the TV was missing.”
She created an environment that allowed the children to express themselves, she said: “I would paint the walls different colors, hang a swing in the room, do whatever I could to create an atmosphere in which they could do what they wanted to do.”
It wasn’t unusual for her children to be production assistants and have other roles in her plays, Mrs. V said.
“My children were my first audiences and my first cast members,” she said. “I had only one girl, [Donesha], so she was always the mother in the plays. I made time because I involved my children. My children passed out my flyers. My children were my greeters. My children were ushers at my events. Anything I ever did, they were part of it.”
The experience has paid off. Her youngest son, Devontae, currently attends the American Music Dramatics Academy (AMDA), a conservatory for the performing arts located in New York City, and her son Dominique is a Broadway actor.
“My sons know how to do lights and sound. They were my tech people. This was my team. This was my crew,” Mrs. V said. “I’m so proud of them.”