News Release

Johnson joins Southern Education Foundation as Early Childhood Education senior fellow

NEWS RELEASE – April 29, 2024

Contact: Alan Richard, or 202.641.1300, or Danielle Smith,, 470.705.9365

ATLANTA The Southern Education Foundation welcomes Lee Johnson III, Ph.D., as the organization’s senior fellow for Early Childhood Education. He will lead SEF’s early childhood strategy area and co-direct the Southern Early Childhood Education Justice (SECEJ) network of advocates across the region.

Johnson previously served as the vice president of policy for the National Black Child Development Institute (NBCDI) where he helped shape the organization’s research, advocacy, and legislative agenda. He also founded Early Quest Strategies, an early childhood mental health-focused consultant agency.

At SEF, Johnson will oversee the foundation’s expanding work on early childhood issues and will lead the SECEJ network with Fred Jones, Jr., SEF’s senior director of public policy and advocacy.

Earlier, Johnson served as a senior policy analyst for infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) at ZERO TO THREE in Washington, D.C., spearheading initiatives to strengthen the nation’s clinical workforce in mental health for young children and advocating for more federal support for early childhood programs. 

He began his career as an early childhood educator at the Judy Bonner Child Development Research Center at The University of Alabama, leading to a teaching and research assistantship that deepened his interest in children’s mental health. Later, he was appointed the director of the Alabama Department of Early Childhood Education’s Office of Early Learning, advising the state’s secretary of early childhood education and directing the state’s Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program. He also served as the state lead for Parents as Teachers, a nationally recognized home visiting model. 

Johnson also served as the director of First 5 Alabama, the state’s membership organization for IECMH professionals. 

He holds a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in public health from The University of Alabama.

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Originally founded in 1867 to educate Black children and children from low-income families in the South, the Southern Education Foundation also has a long history of developing leaders in education and was a pivotal source of research and data to support legislation and litigation aimed at fighting inequity in education during the civil rights era. The organization today conducts leadership development, research, and advocacy to improve educational opportunities for Black students, other students of color, and students from low-income families and achieve educational equity in the Southern U.S. It is based in Atlanta, Georgia. Find out more at

The Southern Early Childhood Education Justice (SECEJ) network, an initiative managed by the Southern Education Foundation, is a regional coalition that unites state and national policy organizations and advocates to improve and expand early learning opportunities across the South. This network of partners engages in strategic professional learning and works to create and advance a comprehensive, regional early childhood policy strategy with a deliberate emphasis on supporting Black children and children from low-income families. Find out more at