A Southampton native has been honored with a community service award for improving the lives of residents of Hampton Roads, Virginia, over the past several years.Mark Johnson, 45, graduated from Southampton High School in 1986. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Silver Star Spirit of Service Award by the Urban League of Hampton Roads Young Professionals for his work with the Sun Trust Bank, where he serves as a liaison between the financial institution and the community.
Mr. Johnson, who now lives full-time in Virginia with his wife, Shonder, and two children, Imajae, 17, and Mark, 14, said he is thrilled to have won the award. “I was blown away,” he said in a recent interview. “I was actually blown away that somebody had thought enough of me, and my work and contribution to a community that I did not grow up in, to nominate me for such an award.”
The Silver Star Spirit of Service Award honors local leaders who have made a difference. It was presented to Mr. Johnson at a ceremony on February 27 at the Tidewater Community College Roper Performing Arts Center in Norfolk, Virginia.
“Mark Johnson was a candidate for the award based on his work with Sun Trust Bank, and before that through United Way Worldwide,” said Angela Robinson, development manager for the Urban League of Hampton Roads. “He has made a lot of strides with supporting and helping nonprofit organizations, and the Urban League has been the recipient of his work through Sun Trust.”
While working for United Way Worldwide, Mr. Johnson helped develop a partnership between the Urban League and the Eastern Virginia Medical School, focusing on sickle cell anemia. He also created an annual leadership award through Sun Trust, known as the Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Award.
Mr. Johnson first moved to Virginia in 2001, when he transferred from his position at United Way Worldwide to be the vice president of community funding for Sun Trust. Sun Trust is committed to community involvement, making it a perfect fit, Mr. Johnson said.
Mr. Johnson is the head of the SunTrust foundation, a non-profit, separate entity that focuses on providing financial resources to art, health, social, educational and other neighborhood programs. Through the foundation, Mr. Johnson helps allocate over $400,000 a year to charitable organizations in the neighborhood.
“We provide what we can in terms of grant funding to a number of nonprofit and community-based organizations in Hampton Roads,” he said. “This is a great opportunity to fund scholarships for lower-income students, fund micro-loans for those looking to be able to build capacity in their small businesses, cultural arts programs, civic programs—you name it, and we look for an opportunity to impact it.”
Although Mr. Johnson was surprised to win the award, one person who was not surprised by his success was Richard Wingfield, a community liaison for the Southampton School District who worked with Mr. Johnson when he was a high school student, as his guidance counselor. This week, Mr. Wingfield said he is proud of Mr. Johnson for all he has achieved and wishes him more success in the future.
“I do not think I have ever had any greater privilege in my life than to be able to call him ‘son,’ because that is what he has always felt like to me—not a student, he felt like a son,” Mr. Wingfield said. “I think that is probably the ultimate feeling one might have, because there is no feeling that could be greater. He is just a sincere and incredibly wonderful soul, and I am just so proud of him.”
This week, Eric Mann, the senior vice president for commercial and business banking for Sun Trust, said he is proud that Mr. Johnson is able to accomplish so much through the foundation.
“We are a purpose-driven instead of a mission-driven company,” Mr. Mann said. “Mark does a phenomenal job of living that every day in his role of helping to build stronger communities. He is a conduit for the community, a liaison, and a great guy.”