Poet Yeva Johnson (S4E25)
Photography by Michelle Kilfeather
Yeva Johnson was born in Detroit by necessity.
In Part 1, we welcome Yeva back to the show. We first met her back in 2018 at Working With Death, the show we did that year with Reimagine End of Life.
Her family moved from Michigan to Washington, DC, when Yeva was young. She often joined her siblings and parents at various marches in the capital city—for the ERA, peace marches, etc.
As a student, Yeva liked to read. She talks about going to DC museums and the Library of Congress ("They had every book—almost!") when she was young. Her parents moved her to a new school, and so she had to adjust to a new environment and make new friends.
Music has always been a big part of Yeva's life. She has been playing the piano since she was five and the flute since she was in fourth grade. When she was young, she went to several jazz festivals in the DC area with her mom. She kept playing flute throughout her time in school and in fact, she still plays today.
She went to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, where she immediately got into their medical program. In her third year of college, she spent time in Brazil, which we wrap this episode with.
In Part 2, Yeva backs up from her time in Brazil to tell us about peace camps she went to as a kid, and how that took her to places like Tanzania. As the kids who went the camps got older, they started having reunions they dubbed "seminar camps." As a teen, Yeva went to one such reunion the French Alps. Years later, as a college student in Brazil, she was on staff as a seminar camp, coming full circle.
Back in Rhode Island, she went straight into medical school. Returned from her time abroad as a young adult, Yeva noted the material abundance found in US versus a place like Brazil. She says she almost quit med school because it was so intense, but she ended up sticking with it. Once her education really ramped up, things like writing for the newspaper and playing flute fell by the wayside.
Yeva explains that it was during her time in med school that HIV/AIDS started becoming known. But that wasn't necessarily what brought her west to San Francisco. She cites a spring break trip to The City while she was still in med school that sealed the deal for her—that, a brush with Armistead Maupin, and getting matched with a program at San Francisco General Hospital in family medicine serving underserved populations.
Just before her move here in 1990, she came out to help with Loma Prieta earthquake recovery efforts. She did her training, met a partner, had kids, and has worked a lot since her move. Yeva also discovered poetry and shares the story of how that happened.
We end this episode with Yeva's thoughts on San Francisco today as well as what could be in store for The City's future. And then she reads one of her poems: "Incantation for Black Lives to Remain in Focus After the Outrage Fades."
We recorded this podcast at Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park in September 2021.
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