Tell us about yourself. Who is Lee Johnson?

I, Lee Johnson III, am a 26 year old student, singer-songwriter, early childhood educator, and autism advocate. I think that sums me up professionally (laughs). Personally, I am lover of children, music and health which includes both my personal health and the health of the world around me. I was born in Los Angeles, California yet I’ve been living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama since I was five years old.

I attended and graduated from Shelton State Community College receiving my Associate of Science Degree in Music Education back in August of 2010. I received training in classical voice instruction under Glinda Blackshear. Voice health was as key then as it is now and I had my first lesson in being “healthy” voice wise. I transferred to the University of Alabama in August 2010 continuing vocal training under both Doff Proctor and Dr. Stephen Cary. I trained under Dr. Carol Prickett and Dr. Andrea Cevasco in the School of Music’s Music Therapy program for two years before choosing to major in Early Childhood Education. I began seeing the correlation between the affects music had on health especially when it came to learning techniques to promote stress reduction. I soon trained at the Child Development Research Center, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where I completed a 250 hour early childhood education internship. I then earned a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education in December 2014 from the University of Alabama, which still seems surreal. I intend on receiving my Masters of Arts Degree in Health Promotion in the future from the University of Alabama.

I currently work as a Music Intervention and Activities instructor at a local non-profit organization, Arts ‘n Autism, for children with autism. I have been with the organization for over 3 years. I implore many different techniques that are quite similar to the discipline of music therapy but have been incorporating more of a health promotion focus in my quest to increase physical activity among children with autism.

Tell us about your journey into the vegan lifestyle that happened before you started the 2015 Calvin Bonds Health and Fitness Challenge.

Honestly, when I think about it, my vegan lifestyle could have very well begun when I was five. However I wouldn’t have considered myself a conscious vegan per say. When I was five, my mom passed away and left me with something that changed me: a desire to live a healthy and fulfilled life. In my early childhood mind I wanted to avoid the things that took her away from me. Many of my days were spent wishing she was still around. However, I understood the choices that she made resulted in poor health, costing her greatly. Since my revelation, I have strived to find my purpose. I have grown to believe that when purpose is not known abuse is inevitable. I believe my purpose in life is to inspire, reinforce, and promote change in the lives of children, their families and the community. Whether the change that someone chooses brings about a new love for learning or causes one to realize the right choice is enough to begin again. In this case it is a change to pursue a vegan (whole food plant based specific) lifestyle.

Firstly, I was vegetarian before I transitioned to vegan. Of course vegetarians don’t eat meat but still consume eggs and dairy.

However vegans don’t eat meat, milk, eggs, (many don’t eat honey) or any animal-derived byproducts from whey to lard to gelatin. Vegans typically avoid what’s called GMOs (genetically modified organisms, pesticide laden fruits), hydrogenated oils, or even artificial sugars.

I know for me it was a process because I loved eggs and chicken, but there are so many alternatives. I began my official transition shortly after watching the films Forks Over Knives and Food Inc. I was convinced to make changes after the exposure to the information. When you find out the truth about the food industry the truth can motivate or push you to keep moving forward with the new lifestyle (it’s definitely not a diet).  In this case it pushed me to further pursue a vegan lifestyle.

What made you get involved in the 2015 Calvin Bonds Health and Fitness Challenge? What are your goals?

I’ve been a part of the Fitness Challenge before but not as a vegan. I wanted to actually ‘challenge’ myself to tone while keeping with a whole food plant based vegan lifestyle. I’ve seen others who have done so. I wanted to see how my health (physical, emotional, social, mental, spiritual) would adjust as a result of the new lifestyle. This challenge provided a haven for support, encouragement, and truth which I needed to remain accountable to my goals.

During this 2015 Calvin Bonds Health and Fitness Challenge you were featured as an expert on the vegan lifestyle. How that experience and what was was the impact on the participants in the group?

I believe the experience to provide information was a blessing. It was great, to me, since I was able to give individuals who haven’t explored the vegan lifestyle an opportunity to learn about it themselves. Many of the participants either voiced that they would transition to a vegan lifestyle as a result or simply increase their fruit and vegetable intake. Any of those changes for me was enough to show an impact of what I shared.

Okay between you and me, is meat really that bad? If so, why?

Well, I share this with anyone that asks me. Since I have changed to a vegan lifestyle and have done more research I realize that meat is not necessarily ‘bad’. I believe the way meat is processed both here in the USA and in many places in the world at differing manufacturing businesses (cause they are not farms like many are led to believe) is cruel, often times not sanitary, and is often not transparent to the consumer. If many people knew that animals that went to slaughter were possibly sickly yet ended up on their supermarket shelves many would be outraged. However everyone continues to endorse with their dollars the meat industry without doing their own research. I am all about researching what it is that is being consumed. Many vegans may disagree with me on this but you certainly can live a healthy life, not be vegan and consume (my opinion) a small consumption of lean meat or eggs once in a while. It has been proven through research that one could do that and still be in optimum health. However it has also been proven over and over again that one could live a perfectly healthy life on a whole food plant based vegan lifestyle and that is the one I choose to live and that is the one I encourage for others.

Give us some helpful tips for people wanting to adapt a vegan lifestyle?

Honestly,(laughs) in my opinion the first step (at whatever pace you choose) is to actually cut out all meat from your diet. This is the first step which for most can be the hardest but if you are asking to adapt to a vegan lifestyle that’s a start. You will be thankful as you age that you did.

Of course you want to consult with your physician but I assure you when he says things like “eat healthy” he does so because he can’t “technically” tell you to avoid meat (unless he is fearless). Why do I say that..because many doctors are invested often times and gag laws come into play, so discouraging meat consumption could hinder the issuance of ‘blood pressure medication’ (high meat consumption has been shown to be related to high blood pressure) which could ultimately affect their livelihood. However since this is about a vegan lifestyle that is a start. Slowly swap one day of the week to be meatless and see how that goes and move forward from there. That is what helped me.

Another helpful tip would be to check out Forks Over Knives, it is a documentary that has its base in differing scientific studies to further substantiate the effectiveness of a whole food plant based lifestyle (vegan specific).

I would also suggest that one could look into reading this book [I try not to recommend books I haven’t read or reviewed.]

So, currently this is a book I am reading:

The Campbell Plan: The Simple Way to Lose Weight and Reverse Illness, Using the China Study’s Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet
What drives you?

My drive comes from the idea or belief that I was created for a need that would arise in my generation. A need, in this case, to inspire the next generation through encouragement to find out their purpose but live it being as healthy as possible. I think about leaders who have made an impact on me to pursue my gift and refine it whether that is in music or health. That inspired me to activate faith and go after what I see. I hope that as a result, my generation and generations to come do not limit themselves.

We understand that being in the 2014 Calvin Bonds Health and Fitness Challenge last year helped inspire an educational track that you are now pursuing. Tell us about that track and does your professional plans involve a career in the health industry?

Since I love to encourage more individuals (especially when it comes to empowering children to identify fruits and vegetables and not vilify them) to adapt to a vegan lifestyle I wanted to educate myself further on differing health interventions in order to better show the benefits not just for personal health but for also the environment and for animals. As a result, I decided to begin taking health education and health promotion courses so I could be more resourceful as it relates to health and debunking some myths out there surrounding eating healthy. I’ll be receiving my Masters in Health Promotion hopefully Spring 2016. I’m excited about that! My professional goals include becoming a Nationally Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES) shortly after receiving my Masters in order to be a more competent resource for individuals that hope to live healthier lives.

Is there a doctorate degree somewhere in your journey?

(Laughs) I’m sure there will be. I have certainly been thinking about it. I definitely am considering health as one of my subject options aside from leadership or higher education. We shall see!

In closing, what is your message for people reading this article who have their own health and fitness goals?

I would say that thoughts are powerful just like your words. I encourage anyone who desires to live a healthy life to think about how you would like to see yourself in a healthy way and determine in your heart to aim for that. If you make the choice to speak it out of your mouth it will help because you CAN do it! The question that always would come to me is WILL you do it though!!! Choose to live healthy today and your future will be glad you did!! Destiny moves at the speed of decision. When you know where you are headed your vision provides the strength toward your discipline for your decisions. The battle is on going in the mind so always combat negative thinking with where you see yourself. Remember you can do or be anything– any good thing–you put your mind to!