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Elmont's Mimi Pierre-Johnson, 2018 Person of the Year

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Think of Mimi Pierre-Johnson as the voice of Elmont.

As a civic activist in the community, she has taken on any number of issues, whether she is fighting for Haitian immigrants who lost their Temporary Protected Status as refugees under the Trump administration, or whether she is battling to make sure that the needs of local people are considered as a swath of Belmont Park is developed as the Islanders’ new arena, or whether she is seeking answers as to why the community has higher cancer rates than surrounding areas.

“Mimi is an amazing community leader, and she’s contributed to make Elmont what it is right now,” State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages said during Pierre-Johnson’s Elmont holiday party this December.

And Pierre-Johnson hasn’t been involved in Elmont for a little while. She has been active in the community since she moved to it in 1995. For her most recent campaign, she envisions the creation of an Elmont Cultural Center, where local people can come to enjoy one another’s company and learn. It’s not built yet, but knowing Pierre-Johnson, it will be one day soon.

For all of Pierre-Johnson’s efforts over the past 23 years, the Herald proudly names her the Franklin Square-Elmont Herald’s Person of the Year for 2018.

Pierre-Johnson first came to Elmont not as an advocate, but as a real estate agent. She lived in Cambria Heights with her daughter, Tamar Paoli, now 27, and would often show young families houses in Elmont. Pierre-Johnson said that the schools in Elmont and Nassau County were a big selling point for parents seeking to settle in suburbia, so when her own child was ready to enter school, Pierre-Johnson decided to follow suit.

Paoli said her mother was quick to become involved in Elmont once the two settled in the community. She attended every Elmont school board meeting she could, joined the Emmanuel Baptist Church’s choir club, became president of the Argo Civic Association and even volunteered as a troop leader for the local Girl Scout troop. Paoli recalled a time when her mother babysat 10 neighborhood children at once one night, and cooked them all a pancake breakfast the next morning before heading to work.

“I grew up with this picture of a real-life Superwoman, and I would always be with her, learning all these things about work and our community,” Paoli said.

Paoli grew up to become a community activist herself and was awarded the Nassau County Legislature Citizenship Award while in high school. Paoli is the founder of the Elmont Alumni Growing Leaders through Education and Service.

When Stanley Johnson met Mimi in 2000, he was the organist at the Emmanuel Baptist Church. Stanley said he was initially stunned by how busy Mimi was, balancing her real estate and home improvement jobs along with her responsibilities with the Argo Civic Association, and he eventually found himself supporting her work. Stanley became Mimi’s partner, attending all kinds of community events together with her. The couple eventually married in 2006, and their son, Aaron, was born the next year.

In 2009, Pierre-Johnson began making plans for a cultural center for Elmont. She wanted a place where children could play after school and discover the history of their hometown, as well as their own cultural history. Although her plans were put on hold when she began working with New York Communities for Change, a community advocacy organization, she returned to the idea of a cultural center when the organization downsized in 2016.

“When I worked with New York Communities for Change, I could never see the changes I made because they were focused mostly in the city,” Pierre-Johnson said. “But I wanted to see changes made in Elmont.”

Mimi founded the Elmont Cultural Center as an organization and began to take aim at local issues. She ran unsuccessfully for the State Assembly’s 21st Assembly District seat in 2010, but through that experience, she made important connections with local elected officials, and found her true calling as a bridge between elected leaders and the community, which was evident throughout 2018.

In February, Mimi spoke out at the “Haiti is Beautiful” event as the master of ceremonies. She condemned President Trump’s derogatory characterization of Haiti and asked the community to support local officials who planned to protect Haitian immigrants from the president’s policies. She also connected residents with health care providers and employers at the event. The next month, she united with local activist Carl Achille and Victor Perez to address Nassau County officials on the poor water quality and high cancer rates in Elmont.

Most recently, Pierre-Johnson toured the streets of Elmont with state, county and town officials to find quick solutions to help make the streets safer after an auto accident at the end of October left four Elmont Memorial High School students injured. She witnessed the accident and was among the many there who helped the students as they waited for an ambulance to arrive. She said she was pleased to find new safety signals and road signs installed after the government officials’ meeting with Elmont residents shortly after the accident.

“That would be another goal for the cultural center,” Pierre-Johnson said. “To have people and officials gathered in one place, discuss ideas and implement them for Elmont.”

Pierre-Johnson can be heard discussing these ideas and informing the public every Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., on Radio-Kreyol, 89.7 FM. The talk show focuses on local issues and often features local elected officials and call-in segments. Her most recent episodes included a discussion on Nassau County’s tax assessment policy and the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Study for the Belmont arena project. Stanley said that once his wife is able to secure sufficient grant funding to build the Elmont Cultural Center, she would host the radio show from it.

“To this day, I can wake up in the middle of the night and see her working at 2 a.m. for this community,” Stanley said. “I know we’ll get that community center, and she’ll be in there every day.”