Medical Assistant turned Philanthropist, Turquoise Johnson is the Owner and Founder of Hairless 4 Her Awareness Inc., aka H4HAInc. After the passing of her elementary school teacher in 2010 of Metastatic Breast Cancer, Turquoise got the drive and ambition to start a non-profit organization in honor of her teacher and the many patients she meet while working as a Medical Assistant. After getting laid off from her job in March 2011 Turquoise took her first unemployment check and started the organization.
Hairless 4 Her Awareness is a non-profit organization that conceptualized after founder Turquoise Johnson decided to part ways with her hair to honor a former teacher and close friend after she lost her battle to breast cancer. Since 2011, Hairless 4 Her Awareness has been dedicated to promoting awareness for breast cancer through community outreach and engagement. The organization has built a strong foundation by celebrating the lives of the women affected by the disease. In one year, Hairless 4 Her Awareness has become a strong support system for patients without health coverage and adult women under forty. Known for their heart-tugging visual campaigns, Hairless 4 Her Awareness is gearing up to become a leader in breast cancer awareness.
The “Save The Women Not The Boobies®” campaign was created to dispel any notion that a successful breast cancer awareness campaign must glorify a woman’s breast to grab supporter’s attention. By uniting a traditional beauty photo shoot with a thought-provoking awareness campaign, Hairless 4 Her Awareness hopes to honor the lives of the women affected by the disease and not commemorate their breast. The “Save The Women Not The Boobies®” campaign is bringing a whole new feel to awareness by stripping the importance from the boobies and placing it on life itself by highlighting beauty, strength and confidence.
Q & A With Turquoise Johnson
BS: What inspired you to create Hairless 4 Her Awareness? What are some events and/or services that your organization has provided towards Breast Cancer Awareness?
Turquoise Johnson: I started Hairless 4 Her Awareness, Inc. mainly in honor of my teacher who passed away from Metastatic Breast Cancer. Karen Williams was my elementary school teacher who introduced me to a lot of things as a child that I was not exposed to, such as the Arts Theater, music, and dance. It wasn’t until she passed away that I knew what I was supposed to do with my life. I know that seems odd, but it is true the death of my teacher inspired my career. She died November 9, 2010 and the next morning God said “Hairless 4 Her Awareness”. Since starting the organization we organized a Breast Cancer walk, we have developed a strong relationship with the Connie Dwyer Breast Cancer Center in Newark New Jersey, I also volunteer every other Sunday at a local Ihop to help educate women and men about Breast Cancer and just the illness of cancer and what resources are available to them. This year we started organizing Zumba fitness events to help bring awareness to muscle strength that is lost while being treated with chemo. Last but not least the “SAVE THE NOT THE BOOBIES” Campaign has brought awareness to thousands of people.
BS: Describe your journey from being unemployed to creating H4HAInc. How did you know that this was your calling?
Turquoise Johnson: For 3 Years I worked as a Certified Medical Assistant. I received my certification while on workforce through welfare. I had my son at 19 and welfare said “you either have to work or go to school” and I decided to do both! So while working as a bra specialist for Victoria’s Secret I went to night school for my certifications. I am a Certified Medical Assistant, Phlebotomist, EKG tech, and CPR Certified, but with all of those certifications I hated my job, but I LOVED my patients. I worked because I had to pay bills and I had a son. I was a MA (Medical Assistant) working for a OBGYN doctor and an Oncologist and there is where I saw cancer first hand. I saw how much one pill of medication cost ( $170 per pill X 30 days= $5,100 for and uninsured patient), I saw patients from diagnosis to death. I saw it all. Later I found myself working for another doctor for about 6 months, and after that sixth month he wife ask me to come into the office and said ” We have to let you go”, and I replied “Thank You” my teacher had already passed away and knew what I was suppose to do but I didn’t know what was going to start it off, or how I was going to do it, please know I had NO PLAN I just knew the world needed to see and understand a different side of breast cancer awareness. So I took my first unemployment check and registered Hairless 4 Her Awareness through the state of New Jersey as a NON-PROFIT organization.
BS: Who has impacted you most in your career and how? Tell me about your proudest achievement?
Turquoise Johnson: My teacher is and always will be the main reason and inspiration behind the organization, but while working as a medical assistant I met women who were diagnose with breast cancer but it didn’t take their spirit, women who still had children to pick up after their eight hour treatment, or a women whose previous doctor removed the wrong breast and the cancer had metastasized and spread everywhere. Those are the women that I carry with me when I am in the field working and educating the uneducated. My proudest moment is when a woman called me asking me where could she go and get help because she was uninsured and felt a lump in her breast and was scared. At that moment I was very proud of myself coming from a single mother on welfare to now becoming a resource for women in need, that day I was very proud of myself.
BS: It is wonderful that H4HAInc. assists those without health coverage to receive screenings that can potentially save their lives. How do you reach out to those individuals?
Turquoise Johnson: To be honest they find me! Usually I would have to say it is while volunteering in Ihop or a health fair or just talking to people via social media. One of the ladies who I am in contact with now I met her in June of this year at Irvington Ihop and she was just diagnosed this past April with Breast Cancer; she is a mother of three and has a 5 year old boy. She has lost all of her hair to chemo, but not her spirit and in January you will see her in the campaign pictures, she was amazing.
BS: What was the most difficult period in your life, and how did you deal with it?
Turquoise Johnson: The most difficult period in my life I would have to say are the years working as a medical assistant. I remember laying in the bed and asking God what is it I am suppose to be doing with my life, going to work everyday getting a paycheck every two weeks was not for-filling enough for me. I was very MISERABLE. I hated working for doctors. And at that moment my best friend asked me why was I doing this to myself? So for me, what was difficult did emotionally not know where and what my life would become outside of working for doctors. But I loved my patients, I took care of them.
BS: What initiated the concept behind the “Save the Women, Not the Boobies” campaign?
Turquoise Johnson: The “SAVE THE WOMEN NOT THE BOOBIES” campaign came to me while volunteering in Ihop and people kept saying “Save the boobies” and “Save the Tata’s” and It disturbed me, it made me feel very weird. I started to think of all of my patients who passed away from Breast Cancer and they would have given the vanity of their Breast for their lives. It really makes me sad that we live in a nation that the awareness of Breast Cancer is some what focus on if women should keep their breast or not. I would personally rather be alive and get new breast then to have my original ones kill me. It is almost 2013 women can buy new breast. So with the idea of starting this campaign I had to think a new ways to promote it so people would get the message and understand it. Caution tape came from me brainstorming about how to get the message out, and it was not until I wrapped the first model in it that I knew it would work.
BS: Where do you see H4HAInc. in 5 years?
Turquoise Johnson: What projects are you currently working on? In 5 years I see H4HAInc. Mixing fashion with a cause in a way that it has never been done before. I do want to start a magazine just dedicated to non-profits, but make it more interesting than the ones that are out now. In 5 years I see us with a building in Africa that will be a health center to treat cancer patients with the right medications. We have access to a lot in America that we take for granted. I also see a lot of famous faces supporting this campaign and supporting what we stand for as an organization.
BS: What is one of the most important lessons that you have learned since creating your organization? What motivates you to keep going?
Turquoise Johnson: The most important lesson I have learned is to always move from your heart and to live life to its fullest, and never be afraid to take a chance. The difference between entrepreneurs and everyday people is that we decided to act on our ideas and not be discouraged by life. What motivates me is of course the women who have survived and those who are still surviving. My motivation is my 6 year son, my motivation is my will to never give up and to keep pushing toward to the unexpected.