A LIHSA Intergenerational Story: Joy Rankin & Ausar Johnson

Long Island High School for the Arts is a special place. And even more special for a LIHSA alum: when their child can attend as well! Joy Rankin studied Dance, graduating from LIHSA in 1980. Her son, Ausar Johnson, is a senior studying Visual Arts at LIHSA now! Here’s more about their journey.

When Joy was growing up in Hempstead, she was a gymnast and loved to dance but didn’t know there was a school where she could focus on it until her high school junior year when she noticed someone coming out of her school dressed in flash dance leggings and other dance apparel. She asked her where she was going and learned about LIHSA (then known as Nassau BOCES Cultural Arts Center). She immediately went to see her school guidance counselor and advocated to get admitted for her senior year. She entered just as Pat Michaels, a former Rockette, and her husband Bert were forming LIHSA’s first kick line. Joy said, “We were good, but not allowed to compete because we were considered professional since we were studying dance at school.”

Upon graduating, Joy headed to New Paltz, majoring in Communications, and minoring in Dance. She was a modern jazz dancer with eclectic music styles, and music ranged from punk rock to dancing to Rock Lobster. It was a culturally explosive time for black art and she appreciated that she was part of a small core of dance students who were asked to do choreography for Black-oriented arts events during her college years.

A few years after graduating college, Joy found herself back in New Paltz, with her oldest son, and pursued creative opportunities. She went to an open dance audition and was selected to perform as Tina Turner in “Proud Mary.” She found summer work teaching for Powerhouse Theater Company in Poughkeepsie as a Movement Instructor. She guided students on how to convey their emotions through movement and dance. Joy attended a photoshoot with a friend for Essence Magazine; she was used as a hair model and landed a job as the magazine’s Fashion and Beauty reporter!

Eventually returning to Long Island, Joy became a substitute teacher, and a connection made for her to consider pursuing a graduate degree in Library Science. She met with a Dean at LIU Post’s Palmer School of Library who offered her a full scholarship and stipend to attend, thanks to a government initiative to encourage people of color to enter the library field.

She has had a successful career in libraries on Long Island, always focused on integrating arts and culture into her position. For example, as the Director of the Riverhead Library, she initiated a flash mob project to commemorate the 5th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death.  She worked as a librarian for the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and helped curate a “Walk in My Shoe” in-school education program based on one of the museum’s exhibits. Through that work, she even became a voice over actor, lending her voice to the character DJ Sole from that exhibit!

After spending some time during the pandemic in Georgia, Joy returned to Long Island and is currently the Cultural Curator at the Roosevelt Public Library.

One of Ausar’s early art pieces clearly demonstrated his talent

Joy shared that her late husband, who passed away from cancer when Ausar was a baby, was a gifted visual artist. “Ausar was rooted in art. It’s part of his DNA.” She had to advocate at Ausar’s home school, Freeport, for Ausar to attend LIHSA. He was finally able to attend this year.

Joy shared, “LIHSA to me is was a savior for Ausar; he is calm and fresh and able to use his gifts. He’s learning so much. I know what LIHSA offers; I’ve been on both sides.  It provides career options for students with talent.”

Joy further loves that her professional life gives her the opportunity to occasionally work with other LIHSA grads. A recent example was booking Joshua Dickerson to perform saxophonist for a recent holiday concert. “LIHSA alum find each other at these interesting times of history.”

Thank you to our intergenerational family – Joy and Ausar – for being an important part of LIHSA’s history.  50 years strong!

Scroll for more photos…