LI Head Start dedicates Patchogue headquarters to former chairperson Joan B. Johnson


Joan B. Johnson dedicated 50 years of her life to getting Long Island Head Start off the ground in Suffolk County.

Her legacy as an advocate lives on through the organization’s newly named headquarters: the Joan B. Johnson Central Administration building at 98 Austin Patchogue.

Family, friends, local elected officials and Head Start administrators gathered June 1 for the building dedication ceremony for Johnson, who died in 2019 at age 85.

Johnson is survived by her husband of 62 years, Cleveland Johnson Jr.; and their four children, Keith, Genevieve, Kelly, and Cleveland III.

Cleveland Johnson spoke highly of his late wife at the ceremony, expressing how Joan positively impacted his life and those who were lucky to cross her path.

“Joan always took the spotlight, not with intention, but with grace,” Cleveland Johnson told the crowd. “Be happy about how you and I had the privilege to stand in her shadow.”

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Cleveland Johnson Jr. gives his speech while surrounded by family.

Honoring Joan‘s legacy

Joan Johnson was the kind of person who fully immersed herself in a cause.

Her involvement with the Head Start program began in 1966, and she spent five decades promoting its mission.

Project Head Start was established in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on Poverty” to address the numerous issues affecting children from low-income families.

The program was designed to offer comprehensive health, nutrition and early childhood education services that would give preschoolers equal opportunities to succeed in the public school system.

Family support services such as educational training and job skills for parents were also provided for disadvantaged families.

While others stood on the sidelines during this time, Joan Johnson put herself on the frontline of the “War on Poverty,” friends and officials said.

She was a stay-at-home mother at the time and volunteered in 1964 to “knock on doors” in a community-based grassroots initiative to collect data in order to help implement the Community-Action Program that later became the Head Start Project.

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Photo of Joan B. Johnson and description of her efforts during her time at Head Start.

In 1970, Joan Johnson started her career with Long Island Head Start as the Director of the Central Islip Head Start Center at the Church of Christ in West Islip. Fifteen years later, she was appointed chairperson of the Board of Directors for Long Island Head Start.

In 1991, Joan Johnson was elected Islip Town Clerk, becoming the first African American to hold elected office in the Town of Islip since its incorporation in 1683.

Joan Johnson broke barriers and became a role model in the local political landscape, as well as received various awards and accolades. Amid all her professional success, Long Island Head Start remained her top priority, her friends and family said.

Cleveland Johnson described his late wife as “a gift.”

“No one has changed me the way Joan has changed me,” he said.

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Segundo Orellana (left) and Margarita Espada (right) in front of the mural.

Long Island Head Start also unveiled its new mural behind the administration building.

Created by Patchogue artist Segundo Orellana (@orellana_art), the wall art is dedicated to Joan and Long Island Head Start’s community efforts.

Orellana said he worked on the mural seven days a week and it took just a little over a month to complete the project.

See the full mural here.

Top: Long Island Head Start’s administration and the Johnson family posing outside of the newly named Joan B. Johnson Central Administration building.