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Community Highlights: Meet Johnnie Fielding of Leading By Example

Today we’d like to introduce you to Johnnie Fielding.

Hi Johnnie, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
My story begins with parents Yvonne Fielding and Johnnie Fielding Sr. My parents brought me into this world on August of 1978. My family had limited means; however, my parents were extremely creative and resourceful with utilizing their meager means. My mom always tells the story of when she brought me home from the hospital. My parents were unable to afford a bassinet for me; as a result, I slept in a dresser draw that my mother adorned with several blankets. I was raised in East Baltimore City during the crack epidemic, where drugs inundated the community and wreaked havoc on families.

My professional story began with securing a job at a children’s diagnostic treatment center working with children in foster care; I was 20 years old with minimal experience working in the human service field. I was attending college, but I was still undecided about declaring a major. Initially, it was a job to help support me through college; however, I quickly learned that this was much more than a job. As I learned more about the circumstances that the young people were transitioning from, I recognized the importance of my role as a counselor in their lives and this became much more than a job. The young people that I was working with ages ranged from 6 to 14, and they were coming from tumultuous family dynamics, which lead them to being placed into foster care. Some of their stories were horrific, in some instances, repugnant, but their stories enabled me to tap into an in-depth level of compassion and empathy. Through this compassion and empathy, I recognized some very powerful character traits of the young people; their strength and resiliency. Impressionable was another character trait that was highly observable, a glaring trait for most of young people. They were very receptive to me; maybe it was my boyish looks, I may have been 20, but I probably looked like I was 16. I could imagine some of my clients relating to me as an older brother, so I didn’t experience the resistance and, in some cases, the aggression that some of my other colleagues encountered.

Most of my clients admired me and often emulated me, from my body language to my vernacular and all the way down to how I wore my hat. This dynamic was puzzling to me; however, it heightened my sense of self-awareness and being hyper-conscious of my actions and how I conducted myself. Moreover, this hyper self-awareness became prevalent in my personal life as well. Honestly, this served as motivation for me to enter a journey of tapping into my higher self and becoming a better human. As a young man, I was not too fond of hypocrisy, so I always wanted to lead by example. Subsequently, I tried to embody the principles and values that I was sharing with my clients. Furthermore, this enriching experience compelled me to declare a major in Social Work and formally pursue my education in a track to help others.

I continued to work with children and families within the foster care system. Concurrently, I continued to pursue my education which led me to obtain a Master’s Degree in Social Work in 2004. In 2009, my business partner Subramonianpillai Teal and I founded Leading By Example. Leading By Example is a behavioral health company that specializes in provided comprehensive mental health services. We serve over 2,000 clients a year in the Baltimore metropolitan area. We employ over 80 individuals who have partnered with us in our mission to improve the quality of life for children, adults, and families. Currently, we have a location in Baltimore County and Harford County. In addition, we will be opening a 3rd location in East Baltimore City in September 2021. This location is approximately 10 minutes from the neighborhood where I was raised.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
In my experience, starting a business, running a business, and growing a company will have their valleys and peaks during the road. We experienced meteoric growth initially; however, we encountered several challenges and or struggles along the way. First and foremost, our industry is regulated by the state of Maryland, and it is pervasive for regulations to be changed or updated. For example, around 2013, the state implemented a regulation change to one of our services that limited the duration a client could be eligible for services. Before the regulation change, we had over 100 clients receiving services in this particular program. The new regulation required us to discharge 75% of the clients receiving services which created an immense disruption for the clients and families that were receiving services. Consequently, creating discontinuance for the services that the clients and families were receiving.

Also, this created a financial strain and burden on the company. As a part of our financial forecasting process, we had budgeted and allocated expenditures for the company that was based on this program functioning with over 100 clients in its census. Within three months, this program had 25 clients; however, we were able to save a significant amount of jobs, but many people did lose their jobs. And this was not the worse part; a young man that was discharged from that program was murdered in Baltimore City approximately two months after being discharged from our services. This ordeal was heart-wrenching! However, this served as an illuminating spark for us to do more, not only providing high-quality services but also preserving these services that are so desperately needed for our community. As a result, we began to focus more on our advocacy efforts in the policy realm. We partnered with Maryland Disability Law Center to combat the swift regulation changes that decimated a program and served as a catalyst for a young man losing his life. Ultimately, the regulation was rescinded, but the loss of a mother and father’s child is still haunting to a family.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Leading By Example provides comprehensive mental health services to children, adults, and families. We believe our treatment process and our philosophy of care distinguishes us from other service providers. Leading By Example utilizes a strength-based approach to treatment by focusing on an individual’s inherent gifts and strengths. This treatment philosophy enables us to engage our clients in a reflective process while allowing them to fully manifest self-determination throughout their treatment process. We allow our clients and families to teach us how to work with them by acknowledging that they are the true experts on themselves. We believe that this unique approach to treatment empowers our clients to take control of their lives and their treatment process while providing them an access ramp toward self-actualization. In addition, we genuinely believe in “meeting clients where they are”; as a result, the majority of our services are delivered in our client’s homes or the community.

We are behavioral health advocacy leaders. We are incredibly active from the legislative and policy aspect of the behavioral health industry. We have established a healthy relationship with our legislators, and we are members of the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland (CBH), the largest behavioral health advocacy organization in Maryland. I currently sit on the Executive Board of this organization. As members of CBH, we are the voice that advocates for the behavioral health community in Annapolis and throughout Maryland. We have provided testimony in Annapolis in front of legislators during several legislative sessions.

What quality or characteristic do you feel is most important to your success?
I pride myself on being a student indefinitely. I believe that it’s essential to maintain the posture of being a sponge and continuing on a purposeful growth and learning path. Therefore, I think it is imperative to allocate the necessary time, energy, and effort into learning your craft and aspiring to be an expert in your industry. Many people aspire to be successful, but how much time are you allotting to your craft, industry, or business?

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