By Christopher Perez
Coming from the small town of Hampton Virginia, Shalonda R. Johnson, also known as “SJ,” strived to be an actress in New York City. Unbeknownst to her, she became more than a performer but an accomplished author.
Growing up, SJ’s family was very supportive. From modeling to acting, her family encouraged her to pursue her dreams in the arts, despite coming from an area of Virginia where the arts are very limited.
“I never thought being an actor, writer, author was attainable, because I’ve never seen anyone or talk to tell me writing is a career,” said Johnson.
Since the age of fifteen, she was acting at Bethel High School, where she received an award for “Best New Actress.”
Inspired by actress Nia Long, who’s known for her roles in Boyz n the Hood, Soul Food, and Big Momma’s House, and her appearance in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, SJ aimed to become beacon for future Africa-American actresses.
“I’ve known a lot of African American women say they never knew acting was attainable to them. They’ve never seen African American women on T.V.. Well, I actually did,”
However behind the acting scenes her interest shifted. She’d write stories about relationships and fiction. It was a hobby that was the utmost important to her, only she did not know at the time.
“When I was in High School I fell in love with words,” she said, “as a child writing was an escape from reality. But that’s the only thing I took from it.”
As a college student in Radford University, SJ focus was acting. With awards, praise, and excellent grades from professors, she believed everything was fallen into place. But the performing arts are a competitive field in both the real world and college.
“If you did not get cast into a University play there was no where else to go,” explained Johnson, “unless you went out an created your own project. Because there was no where else to go, I felt the program wasn’t for me.”
Writing became an after thought.
Her education did not end at Radford University. SJ applied to the prestigious Temple University in New York City and moved on. However her education was not limited to only Temple, she was receiving training from TVI Studios and training from The Actor’s Center in Philadelphia. It was in Temple University where she learned some of her most valuable lessons.
While attending a course on Shakespeare, “my teacher told me I don’t think you’re going to pass. I went home. I found out everything I needed to know about Shakespeare. I equipped myself with the knowledge I needed to master Shakespeare. Not only did I pass the class with an A but I was offer to showcase my sonnet. He was delighted that I became from nothing to something. That was very significant for me. I was happy for that,” she explained, “I mastered Shakespeare.”
Her passion for writing was dim but reignited.
In 2007, SJ graduated from Temple University with a B.A. in Acting and Liberal Arts. She began to pursue her career. She secured her first movie, “A Melancholy Note.” However, right after, the director of the project was overwhelmed and sold the project. The film was recast.
Throughout her career SJ performed in numerous commercials, videos, and plays. Her involvements include 5-Hour Energy commercial, IV degrees, and Beyoncé’s video “The Best Thing I Never Had.” But as time progressed fewer opportunities arose.
“All of a sudden, it started to dwindle,” said SJ, “I started to be pick apart in the acting business. Something I built armor against. You’re not small enough, you’re not big enough, your hair is too straight, or your hair is too curly. But they are not telling you this, your agents are.”
“It was a down point for me. And with that down point I melted back into writing.”
She felt time was running out because of her contract renewal date. And fewer opportunities accompanied nervous thoughts. In search of advice from former professors, she was told, “you have to write!” She continued, “instead of hearing ‘you have to write your own part,’ I heard you have to write yourself into Hollywood!”
On a day of her contract renewal, the direction of SJ’s career changed. With her confidence wounded, she began to doubt whether her long-time agency would keep her on board. Her fear was hearing the word “but.” A word most actors dread when negotiating their contract but for SJ it was a blessing in disguise.
“They wanted a triple threat. Most actors believe that to be acting, dancing, and singing. It doesn’t have to be that. But that is what I thought at the time. So I told them I write and I could see the sparkle in their eyes.”
She turned in her stories she’s been writing for years. Among the many stories she submitted Redemption and Repercussion stood out. Her Agency agreed to sign her “but” only if she agreed on a book deal too.
Her debut novel, Redemption and Repercussion, was published on April 4, 2017. Since then SJ is now contracted to write six addition books. She works with fellow authors and subjects to tell their stories.
Although now an accomplish author, Shalonda Johnson has not abandon acting. She is scheduled to star in a Netflix original film. Educates young actors and actresses on the industry at Temple.
“My journey to authorship was bumpy. But I’m glad it was. Small town girl now living in the big city as an actor and author, I’m living my dream. I want everyone to live his or her dreams. I want everyone to be a triple threat!”
“My name is Anthony Sierra, I’m an aspiring artist and I’m born and breed New Yorker from Queens. When I was 14 I started teaching myself the guitar and fell madly in love with music. Later, I picked up the piano, base, and a little drums. At the moment, I’m enrolled at Queensborough Community college where I’m studying music production, but at night I’m a performer. For the last year or two, I’ve been performing at shows and open mics in the hopes to catch my big break. But most importantly, I love meeting fellow musicians and artists. It’s networking for us. Currently, I’m working as a solo artist. I used to be involved with a punk rock band but there was so much drama. It wasn’t my scene. And, idealistically speaking, If I were in a band it’d be selfish to write songs about only my life. My music taste used to be only punk rock but after experiencing so much in life, such as hardships and heartbreak, my taste has evolved. My inspirations are Sum 41, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Ed Sheeran. I’ve even taken to composing hip hop beats for some of my friends whom are rappers. Ed Sheeran plays a big role in my music and life, I took up singing because of him. But, as a kid, I have always loved singing. I used to sing all the time. I’d sing the theme songs of Pokémon, anime’s openings, and, one of my all time favorites, Power Rangers. I’m just kid from Queens trying to follow my dreams and appreciate anyone who supports me along the way.” – Anthony Sierra
New York City’s spotlights shine a path for aspiring artist.
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