Editor’s Note: This profile is a part of the Voices and Diversity collaboration series "Uplifting Black Voices." Jassma’Ray Johnson's profile is also in honor of Women’s History Month.
Jassma’Ray Johnson, a junior in psychology and communications with a minor in African American studies at Iowa State, is an influencer of cosmic proportions. She is a business entrepreneur, an activist, a woman of color, a student and much more.
“As a Black woman who has been looked up to for creations, culture and ideas while being silenced, ignored and walked over, it is important to me to center Black women while amplifying our voices as well,” Johnson said.
Johnson first rose to local fame through her business known as Simply Sámone. She makes each of her products, which to-date include lip gloss, lip balm and lip scrubs, by hand and with love. Her business’ mission is to help all individuals find comfort in their skin and beauty in themselves. Her products are available via online order and in stores at Studio7 Salon, Spas in Ames and Vanity and Glamour Cosmetics in Des Moines, Iowa. Johnson will be coming out with Simply Sámone merchandise, including T-shirts and hoodies, throughout 2021.
“Simply Sámone is much bigger than me,” Johnson said. “I do it for my people … nothing else even feels right. Everything I do behind my brand and in my life is intentional, with the goal to make people feel unapologetically beautiful in their own skin while encouraging, inspiring and uplifting. This is why I use my platform to uplift other diverse groups of individuals including all gender identities, races and religions.”
Growing up, it was hard to have her needs met. With four siblings, a struggling mom and an abusive father who was in and out of the picture in addition to having a drug addiction, each day proved to be a battle of survival. According to Johnson, the public school system was her savior. It helped her to find sanity amongst all the depravities she was living amongst, despite its own complications.
Oftentimes, Johnson felt like the "odd one out" alongside her peers because she grew up low-income, sharing clothes, wearing hand-me-downs, beat-up shoes and often was only able to eat because of free food pantries. In school, she was regularly the only Black girl in her classes. It wasn’t until she attended East High School in Des Moines, Iowa, where she was finally surrounded by others more akin to her experiences.
Johnson grew tired of being the Hollywood stigma of Black American households and feeling her mental health deplete. After a diagnosis of depression at just 8 years old, she had to fight on for security and her survival.
“If I never knew what it meant to starve, I would have never had the fire to go eat,” Johnson said.
East High School afforded her an opportunity to shine. She didn’t originally plan on coming to Iowa State and hoped to attend a historically Black university, but having been the recipient of a full-ride scholarship given her exceedingly excellent grades and scholarly abilities, she found her adventure would remain closer to home than she’d previously imagined.
Even staying close to home, Johnson persevered and refused to let anything or anyone impede upon her dreams. Thanks to the support of her sisters, Jalesha Johnson and Lonn’Tiay Williams, she knew even as a child that no matter what she wanted to do, whether she became a creator, a writer, an artist, a fashion designer, anything, she had her two sisters to back her up on it. Their influence and love every step of the way bolstered Johnson’s confidence and helped to always remind her, even in the days she forgot, what it felt like to feel pretty.
Johnson is currently majoring in psychology at Iowa State with a minor in African American studies and hopes to use this degree post-graduate to work as a therapist centered around African American patients.
One of the biggest disappointments in her time so far at Iowa State has been in the way the school handles race-related issues.
“Wendy [Wintersteen] and this university do not care about Black Lives or the safety of their Black, Indigenous and [other] students of color,” Johnson said. “There have been countless issues where we have been ignored, walked over and stepped on. Iowa State loves to recruit Black athletes and showcase Black, Indigenous and [other] people of color (BIPOC) for diversity ads, but what do they do to ensure the safety of us Black and brown students? How come Black organizations are less likely to get funding? What has been done about the racist statue on campus? What about Catt Hall, named after the racist white feminist? What about the racist Republican group making threats against BIPOC students? We are on our own out here, taking it day by day and figuring it out regardless because we know, deep down, this campus does not care about us.”
As a community activist, director of programs for the Black Student Alliance, an organizer for the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement and board member of the Culture Collective, Johnson was heavily involved in Black Lives Matter protest efforts throughout summer 2020 and continues to be engaged in the cause with her involvement in virtual events and in-person events in Ames and the Des Moines metro.
Johnson intends to move to Texas post-graduation to continue growing her brand and to create a program that incorporates mentorship, activism, entrepreneurship, poetry, art and cooking. It is her aspiration to create a mentorship focused on low-income neighborhoods and students of color in order to improve their lives. She strives to be a therapist and mentor, all in addition to the continuation of her brand. She wants to be a part of a program that features people of color for representation to show young children they can be anything they want to be, regardless of their skin color.
Her personal and work life come together as a Black woman because Black women are who inspire her personally, inspire Simply Sámone and who her brand centers around. COVID-19 has made her business a challenge as masks are an impairment on the sale of lip products. Despite this, Johnson holds no doubt that when times are safer and masks are no longer necessitated, Simply Sámone will continue to expand steadily.
“Throughout everything, I can truly say that I am most proud of finally loving myself,” Johnson said. “Nothing can amount to the feeling of being in love with yourself, your mind, your body [and] your mind. Being okay with being alone, loving yourself enough to establish the right boundaries, loving yourself enough to make a plan and follow through with it, loving yourself enough to know that you will make every single thing [happen] that you speak into this universe, loving yourself enough to say no, loving yourself enough to admit your wrongs and correct them, loving yourself to know that anything that bends me will not break me.”
Johnson reflected on how she has grown as a person.
“Finally, being able to reflect properly, to grow and to become a better person," she said. "This was something I put on the back burner for many years, always trying to cater to everyone else, but I finally learned how to cater to me, and I will not ever let go.”