Rev. Kevin Johnson is aiming to go from the pulpit to Congress.
Johnson, a political newcomer, will compete in the May 15 Democratic primary for the 3rd Congressional District.
He will face off against incumbent Dwight Evans, a Democrat who has represented the 2nd District since 2016. The newly crafted congressional district put in place this year will move Evans from the 2nd to the 3rd district.
As Johnson prepares to compete for the Democratic line against Evans, he assailed the incumbent’s nearly four decades in the State House and said, “It’s time for change.”
“I am not a career politician,” Johnson said during a recent Philadelphia Tribune editorial board meeting. “I am a person who is committed to the community. … When you look at someone who has been in office for nearly 40 years, that’s not change. We have to begin to plan for the future of Philadelphia.”
Johnson, 44, lives in Overbrook Farms in West Philadelphia with his wife, Kimya, and their three children.
A native of Texas, Johnson received a bachelor of arts degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta, a master’s of divinity from Union Theological Seminary in New York, and a doctorate from Columbia University.
After spending time at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, Johnson moved to Philadelphia in 2007 and become senior pastor of the historic Bright Hope Baptist Church. Within seven years, Johnson said he grew the congregation by more than 1,000 people, and worked to build a $100 million, 14-acre affordable housing development at Temple University.
In 2015, Johnson left Bright Hope Baptist Church to become CEO and president of Philadelphia Opportunities Industrialization Center, or OIC, a nonprofit that provides education, training, job placement and supportive human services, along with housing and economic development, to disadvantaged youth and adults.
While heading the OIC, Johnson oversaw the opening of the organization’s Workforce Academy, an accelerated high school funded through the School District of Philadelphia, which serves students aged 16-21.
Johnson recently took a leave of absence from OIC as he runs for Congress.
Johnson also went on to found his own congregation, Dare to Imagine Church, in Mt. Airy in 2015. The 20-person congregation has grown to 700 members.
Poverty will be Johnson’s main focus.
Johnson, who has neither run for nor held public office, said he will attack poverty by calling for raising the federal minimum wage from the current $7.25-an-hour to $15 and supporting jobs programs; push for universal health care; and seek increased funding for education.
However, with a Republican-controlled Congress and presidency, those progressive policies stand little chance of succeeding.
So Johnson said he will build coalitions to combat poverty and work to pass these policies.
“Poverty is not an African-American issue; poverty is an American problem,” Johnson said.
Winning the primary will not be easy for Johnson.
Johnson will face Evans, who spent 36 years in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives representing the 203rd District before transitioning to Congress in 2016.
But Johnson said his vision, understanding of the community, and work creating programs to help get people out of poverty are a track record for success.
“I hope to continue the work I’ve been doing all my life,” Johnson said. “I’m a job creator. I’m someone who gets the job done. I’m not someone who talks; I’m someone who’s built things from scratch.”
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