In the Spring of 2017, a new photo exhibit called “We Are Columbia” featuring photographs by Khayla Johnson (MDiv ’19) was unveiled by The Office of Student Life and Formation. The photographs were located in various areas of the Vernon S. Broyles Jr. Leadership Center to explore themes of community, difference, and the significance of visual imagery in story-telling and future-making. Since then two more rounds of photography have been installed in the Richards Center, Campbell Hall, and the John Bulow Campbell Library. All of the photography continues to be available to the public on our campus located at 701 S. Columbia Drive, Decatur, GA near Atlanta.
“I chose this project as a creative outlet to talk about the history of our institution,” says Khayla Johnson. Reflecting on the portraits of faculty emeriti in the Refectory of the Richards Center, she notes, “I wanted to figure out who these people were, and it was hard to get information about them because no one had really written it down.”
Most of the photographs are a recreation of older portraits on campus, accompanied by comparative stories about both subjects. A new video about the project provides interviews of Johnson and several members of the Columbia Seminary community, including some subjects of her photography.
“We do a lot of words around here, but here’s a visual form of transforming peoples’ imaginations,” said Dr. Leanne Van Dyk, president of the seminary. “This project is really about transforming our community’s imaginations…about who we are, what we were, and where we’re going.”
Khayla was also recently interviewed for aijcast, a podcast featuring conversations and performances at the intersection of art, inspiration, and justice hosted by Marthame Sanders. She talks about her call, her general interest in photography, and more about the “We Are Columbia” project.
“My understanding of the theological importance of my project is that if we are going to be a multitude of nations, then we have to be able to function in that way,” Khayla summarizes. “…to get know each other in that way, to enjoy each other in that way, and also know the stories of each other. And so, I think it challenges us to open our eyes to what we perceive to be the community.”
Khayla Johnson is a native of Charleston, SC, where she is a fifth generation member of the historic St. James Presbyterian Church (USA). Khayla received her BA in Graphic Design from Coastal Carolina University. She has been an active leader at Columbia Seminary, serving as President of the African Heritage Student Association, Women In Ministry, and the Student Government Association. She also served on the inaugural Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Council.
At Columbia Seminary’s commencement service in May, held at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, Khayla recognized with The Robert Ramey, Jr. Christian Leadership Award. It is an award given to a graduating MDiv senior who shows promise of providing outstanding leadership to the church. The recipient has demonstrated unusual leadership qualities at Columbia, as well as spiritual depth and integrity.