Lauren’s Story

Lauren Moilien Johnson

 

“This I believe: That every man, woman, and child has the right to opportunity:  the opportunity for freedom, the opportunity for education, the opportunity for health care, and the opportunity to enjoy their lives peacefully.”
-Lauren Moilien Johnson | August 27, 2008

 

 

Biography By: Don Johnson

“Wow!  This one’s got a temper,” the doctor exclaimed with sweat on his brow.  The year was 1985 and in less than an hour, Lauren was already making her presence known.  The doctor was right, she had a temper expressed in tantrums in those early years that sent her parents scampering to consult parenting books to try and figure out how to handle a strong-willed child.  But Lauren always seemed to be a step ahead, ready to take on the world.

At the age of four she wanted a cabbage patch doll like every other kid on the block but hers had to be black!  Already at a young age the idea of equality for all was beginning to become Lauren’s banner.

In all things she wanted to keep up with her older brother Adam and perhaps this is why her work ethic and competitive spirit became so intense.  “I will do it well and I will be done first—unless it’s math!  I hate math!”  Lauren had too much to do to loiter around.  In middle school the pettiness perplexed her.  She began to develop the independent spirit that did not cave into peer group pressure.

By high school she began to see that hard work, clear goals and purpose, opened doors.  As a sophomore, she and 2 friends took on their teacher’s challenge to “do something for someone else”.  They decided to help a young family whose mother was seriously ill with cancer.  The three friends spent many hours over a period of weeks putting together a benefit dinner and auction.  They raised $27,000 for the family in need.  They were recognized both locally and at the state level for their efforts.

Next there was controversy at school.  A teacher used a slur to describe another ethnic group.  Lauren would not accept the excuse from the teacher that her father had used the word a lot and so it’s ok.  Not so.  Lauren used all means available to get the teacher to see the error of her ways and she succeeded.  The strength of her spirit was growing.  No one seemed to intimidate Lauren as she began to understand that right is greater than might.

Her purpose in life was taking shape.  Justice for all was more than a motto for the young woman.  It was quickly becoming her passion.  The same intensity the doctor detected early on was being transformed into an energy and commitment that made others wonder, “Why am I not doing more?”

On to the University of Portland to further hone her purpose and direction.  With a double major in political science and French and trips to England, France for a semester, Ireland, Spain, The Netherlands, and Nicaragua, the issues of justice and human rights for every person regardless of nationality or religion developed.  Lauren had found her niche.  Not shy, nor afraid, she began to put words and ideas into action.  She began volunteering at Raphel House in Portland, a shelter for battered women and their children.  For 4 years she spent many Saturday mornings there playing with children and doing art projects with the kids so mothers could have a little time to themselves.  Through her work at the Office of Volunteer Services, now known as the Moreau Center, Lauren worked on recycling at the University.  During the last two years at UP, each semester she helped organized a clothing drive and then made sure the clothing got to the appropriate agencies.  She helped other students get involved in the Oregon Beach Clean-up and the Run for the Cure.  Twenty-four hours after graduating from UP, she was on her way to Nicaragua to learn and work as a volunteer for six weeks.

The next chapter was one which Lauren was so excited about: A masters program in international human rights at the prestigious Joseph Korbel School of International Studies in Denver, Colorado.  In one short semester she established herself as a leader and an independent thinker among her professors and her peers.  She was chosen as leader of a delegation of students going to Israel for internships at the Minerva Center, at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  Her assignment was to Rabbis for Human Rights, an organization dedicated to the rights not just of Jews, but of Palestinians, Christians, and Muslims.  When asked if she felt anxious about going there in the midst of the recent war between Gaza and Israel, Lauren replied, “This is my chosen field.  It won’t always be safe.”

Five days before she was to leave for Israel, Lauren was overcome by carbon monoxide in the middle of the afternoon while she did extra reading in preparation for her trip.  She died in her apartment on January 5th, 2009, after a repairman put a damaged vent cap back on a roof vent, causing the toxic gas to back up into Lauren’s apartment.  Because Lauren’s story of passion and commitment for the needs of others became known across the state of Colorado, her name was added to the Lofgren Family(now the Lofgren and Johnson Family) Carbon Monoxide Safety Act.  The bill requires all new housing, housing as it is sold, and all apartments as tenants change hands to have carbon monoxide detectors.  The bill was signed into law by Governor Bill Ritter on March 24th, 2009.

Lauren left behind a bevy of devastated family and friends who had experienced first hand her joy and passion for life.  Some of those persons have dedicated themselves to creating a foundation that will remember and honor her life and inspiration.  Simply called The LAUREN Project, it will seek to help others who want to do international volunteerism.