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Member Spotlight: Community Development Advocate Lu Johnson

By Stacy Julien

July 29, 2020

Lu Johnson

The widespread attention to racial injustice in 2020 has Lucrecia (Lu) Johnson reflecting on her early life in Georgia. She experienced her share of racial tension growing up in a small, rural town near Macon, where segregated proms and homecomings were the norm and voter suppression tactics were blatant toward black and brown people. Living in that environment contributed to her decision to become an attorney, stirring in her the desire to fight for justice and help those in need.

“Even before I understood the law back then, a lot of what I saw and heard didn’t make sense to me,” says Johnson, who launched LPJ Legal PLLC in Washington, D.C.’s Eastern Market neighborhood just three years ago. “When you look at history, no change ever happened without a law being changed. I wanted to be a part of that change.”

She began her journey by earning a degree in political science from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Afterward, she attended Elon University School of Law for her juris doctor and American University Washington College of Law for her master of laws in advocacy. By 2011, Johnson was practicing law.

Johnson is thankful for the opportunity to work in both small and big law firms. At a small firm, she learned more about the full range of a practice, she says, but a large firm helped her understand her value. “When you open your own practice, you know your own worth. That was a learning curve that I didn’t have to overcome,” she says.

Now Johnson is helping others realize their entrepreneurial dreams. Most of her client base includes real estate contractors, developers, and startup business owners, many looking to help revitalize working-class communities east of the Anacostia River through new housing and other much-needed amenities.

Of note, Johnson’s firm is currently providing counsel to Market 7 owner Mary Blackford, who recently won a $100,000 grant to open a grocery store at the new Benning Market, the first multiple-use market and eatery space in Ward 7. Founded in 2017, Market 7 is a community marketplace featuring a wide variety of black-owned businesses selling food and other lifestyle products. It will lease the entire 7,000-square foot ground floor of Benning Market, serving as a solution to limited food options in the area.

As a resident of Ward 7 herself, Johnson is ready to see a more focused effort on development opportunities. “My office is in Eastern Market. I see a new playground across from my office. Why don’t they build this in Ward 7?” Johnson says. “I want to see more businesses that are walkable for us. There are three pharmacies within walking distance from my office. I see banks. I want us to have access to the same amenities rather than having to spend money to travel to get to them.”

Johnson says she is careful to take on clients who are bringing valuable businesses to the community and truly care about its growth.

Next to business growth, education law is Johnson’s other passion. She has represented students involved in disciplinary matters and says that most clients don’t know their rights.

“It can make such a difference in a child’s life. Often schools do what they want to do, and unfortunately their actions disproportionately affect black and brown students,” she says. “We need to hold the schools accountable. There is a legal process you have to follow, and schools so rarely follow procedures.”

She is equally passionate about giving back to her community and has been recognized for her efforts. Serving as chair of the Washington Bar Association Young Lawyer’s Division from 2018 to 2019, Johnson received the association’s Young Lawyer of the Year award for 2016–2017 and the Advocacy & Leadership Award for 2017–2018. She currently serves on the Young Patrons Board at Arena Stage and is chair of Collaborative Solutions for Communities, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to individuals and families in the District through its Family Rehousing and Stabilization Program, gang prevention efforts, parenting courses, professional clothes for job interviews, and much more.

When she isn’t advocating for others, Johnson enjoys her favorite self-care activities — reading, being with friends, and traveling. Before COVID-19 hit, she was scheduled to travel to Italy, Ghana, and Jamaica. But Zoom happy hours with friends help her relieve stress and stay connected. “I learned quickly in this profession that what we do and see can burn you out. You must have a cutoff and take time to get back to yourself.” Like most Americans, she’s had more time to do that, working virtually from home most days.

Johnson has also had the opportunity to think about her next steps. Most immediately, she’ll be planning her wedding. But over the next decade, she envisions more growth for LPJ Legal, with expansion into other states like Virginia, New York, and Georgia.

“I want my career to continue along the path of correcting historical wrongs through advocacy and education. Every business or individual I advise is better equipped to have a lasting business that employs [people] or fills some other void in our community.”

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