Nina V.A. Johnson is the Director of Community Relations and Community Development and Community Reinvestment Act at Guaranty Bank’s headquarters on Brown Deer Road, but her duties encompass Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Georgia.
Totally confident about the responsibilities and her future, Nina exudes excitement about making a difference in the community. Born gifted, Nina Johnson has never let her gender dictate her aspirations nor her accomplishments. As an only child, she was groomed by both parents to shoot for the stars; and land there!
Her Mother, a creative, artistic, professional violinist, taught her to appreciate the arts and the expressive potential that lies in listening and performing. Her Father, a career serviceman in the United States Air Force, traveled extensively and subtly promoted engineering and business management, his major, as a future option for his young daughter. He often spoke to her about becoming the first black, female astronaut, inventor, medical scientist, or bio-tech innovator. Her parents did not let their humble upbringing limit their vision for their daughter, so they encouraged excellence within their home. They modeled, daily, the realities of succeeding by doing, not just wishing or hoping!
Advanced academically, Nina was scheduled to graduate from high school early, yet her parents encouraged her to remain the extra year. So she decided to graduate with her class and immediately set about taking half-day classes and half day work experiences. That led to not one job, but three. “ When I started to work in the Computer Department of Marshall & Ilsley Bank’s Data Center (n/k/a FIS Data Services), I knew I needed a professional wardrobe for that job, so I applied for a position with Jean Nicole Fashions. Shortly after, I reached out for Kohl’s Department Store for an additional job; however I misdialed and got an engineering firm, by accident. The gentlemen asked if I was calling for the job so I responded with yes. Little did I know that I was speaking with the owner of the firm. Within a week, the owner interviewed me and hired me for the position. It was a natural fit that complimented my desire to consider engineering after graduation”.
At UWM, Nina Johnson was in the Management Information Systems (MIS) program with a minor in Arts. MIS seemed like a great fit because it combined computer technology with human interaction. She thought she had the best of both worlds because her Dad had spoken about the future role computers were going to play in society. In 1984, MIS courses required computer laboratory time, which was very limited, so it was a challenge for working students to access computers during the workday. The only way to accomplish this was to wait in line at the computer lab. Although this was not a problem for students living on campus, it became a dilemma for Nina as a full-time employee living on her own. Though it was her desire to complete her final year of college, Nina realized that she was no longer living at home and had to provide for herself. When she explained her dilemma to her boss, she was told to “either focus on her growing career, or quit and focus on school.” This life-changing moment, resulted in Nina dropping out of school, in her senior year, and focusing on climbing the corporate ladder in banking.
Never a quitter, Johnson digested every rung of the banking ladder. She was a teller, loan officer, collections supervisor, insurance trainer, consumer lending manager, credit card manager, student loan manager, merchant services manager, marketing manager, auto loan manager, etc. She knew she wanted to be in a leadership role one day; and wanted to have ground-level experiences while advancing in her career. In the interim, she married her junior high school sweetheart and had her first son. “After returning from maternity leave, I looked at my baby and said, “It will be hard to tell him to complete school when I dropped out in my senior year, so I talked with my husband, then asked God to help me finish what I started years prior. He answered me the following day. I walked into my office and found an envelope on my desk, which said, “How would you like to finish some unfinished business?” The letter was from the University of Phoenix (UOP) online, so I registered and was back in school that same week.”
“The University of Phoenix was God-sent and resulted in not only completing my undergraduate work, but also an MBA in Global Business Management, with honors. That same year, my husband, Jerry L. Johnson II and I completed seminary and were both ordained and licensed as ministers under Bishop Darrell and Pastor Pamela Hines of Christian Faith Fellowship Church, serving as Relationship Ministry Directors and Marriage Ministry Chairs.”
Christian Faith is known locally, nationally and internationally for their Relationship Ministry with books, CD’s; seminars, and conferences. The Relationship Ministry supports this effort with activities that enrich families, while providing support and encouragement to the total man. The Johnson’s believe their faith in God guides their daily actions.
Nina has been with Guaranty Bank for fifteen years and reports directly to the Chairman, who guided her growth in the company. His banking experiences and commitment to the community makes Nina’s dedication to service and customer satisfaction even more valuable.
The Levy/Saffold family founded Guaranty Bank in 1923. Today, the bank is national in scope with branches in 169 retail branches and more than 30 mortgage divisions across the country. It is one of the last mutual-holding thrift banks in the country with the Levy family owning a portion of the bank and the employees owning a portion.
In its first year of formation, Guaranty enjoyed a 300% increase. After five years, the bank went national. Today, Guaranty remains a solid banking, home equity, mortgage institution that takes great pride in its stability and its employees. Nina Johnson remains an integral part of the bank’s growth pattern.
Nina had previously worked for Bank One’s President of Consumer Lending. When he moved to Guaranty Bank, he recruited her to help him start a new home equity lending division at Guaranty, called GB Home Equity. Nina, along with three other Bank One employees, moved to Guaranty Bank and began their journey. The program became a household name within a year, resulting in a 300% increase in production. Within the first five years, GB Home Equity also expanded nationally. Today, Guaranty remains a solid bank that takes great pride in its stability and its employees. Nina Johnson remains an integral part of the bank’s growth pattern.
“It’s never boring, Johnson said, “ each day is a new learning experience and a great opportunity to work with wonderful people. People we wish to serve with bank instruments that help build wealth and security; it is always rewarding. When I can help the community meet their needs, I go home feeling that I have made a difference that day; particularly as it relates to the low and moderate income seniors, and our youth.”
This feeling of accomplishment is also felt in her community volunteering. Nina serves on three boards, Make A Difference-Wisconsin ( a financial literacy program for high school children), Good Hope Economic Development Corporation (multi-purpose entity and winner of LISC’s 2008 Mandi Award) and Destiny Credit Union; as well as consortiums and counsels formed to prevent foreclosure, promote wealth-building and discourage predatory lending in Wisconsin, Atlanta and Michigan. She is also a founding member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women’s Milwaukee Chapter.
Nina Johnson, “Second Line” honoree 2010, continues to be influenced by her ‘First Line’ parents: “ Mother, a true giver, hard worker and world traveler, is commonly known as the hostess with the most-est. She is also dedicated to her church, Holy Redeemer, and mentors youth and others in need. My Dad is a motivator, a historian and life-long learner, who now transfers future planning and goal setting to his grandsons, Dominic and Deven”, she shared.
“My son often says, “Mom, you’re always reading something”, which is exactly what I used to say to my father as a child. Things have come full circle. As an only child, you learn to read, it’s just a part of your persona. I credit my zest for service, reading, nurturing and helping people to my parents. I thank my exceptional current boss and bosses/mentors of the past for their continued leadership and willingness to open doors without limitation”.
Nina’s motto is: “Don’t EVER give up!” She shares that a former boss gave her a poster with this slogan engraved on it. The poster shows a pelican trying to eat a frog. The frog’s head is in the mouth of the pelican, yet the frog’s hands are around the pelican’s neck, so that he cannot be swallowed.
Never giving up is actually a part of Nina’s lineage because she is the fifth generation descendent of an ancestor who refused to give up, Dangerfield Newby. Dangerfield Newby, was a slave who worked his way out of slavery, and eventually returned with $700 to buy the freedom of his wife and children. When his former slave owner refused to honor this agreement and declined to free Dangerfield’s wife and children, he decided to join John Brown’s group of Abolitionists. Newby was the oldest man to fight alongside John Brown and died at the Battle on Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, on October 15, 1859; before the Emancipation Proclamation, and the freeing of slaves resulting from the Abolitionists Movement.
The body of Dangerfield Newby was later exhumed and now rests on John Brown’s property in Lake Placid, New York. When the Black Holocaust Museum was open and active, Nina’s mother, Doris Newby Armstrong, gave many presentations about Dangerfield Newby to visitors and attendees.
This rich history has strengthened Milwaukee and continues to cement a generational trajectory of service, independence and resilience. We honor and applaud Nina V.A. Johnson as a “Second Line” drum major, whose heritage continues to push her to excellence, leadership and accomplishment.
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