By Michelle Griego

CHICAGO (KPIX 5) — For Students Rising Above Scholars, leaving the Bay Area to go to college is nothing new, many do just that. But A’Nya Johnson left her beloved hometown Oakland not just for education but possible future job experience following a passion, her love of music.

So on a recent winter’s day, Johnson and her dog Fiji braved the snowy streets of Chicago for some fresh air in the cold. Johnson attends Columbia College Chicago, a private college in the heart of the city. The California native says some back home were surprised at her decision.

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“Yeah everybody was, like, ‘You’re so brave,'” said Johnson of her decision to live in the Windy City. “And I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”

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The 19-year-old’s journey to the Midwest started in the Bay Area at Oakland School for the Arts. During her time there, she had the privilege of joining another very special Oakland native – R&B Artist Kehlani on stage at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. Johnson and other members of her school’s choir were brought up on stage by Kehlani during her performance. It’s a memory Johnson treasures.

“I got to perform with Kehlani,” said Johnson. “[She] is an OSA alum, and that was a really powerful experience being behind somebody who literally used to walk the same hallways as me and had the same teachers as me.”

That experience plus a behind-the-scenes summer job at Oakland’s Art and Soul Festival inspired Johnson to pursue a career in music management. She is majoring in music business with a concentration in live music and touring. But it was her early education that would spark a much deeper reflection

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“Growing up as a young woman in Oakland, I loved it,” recalled Johnson. “But I didn’t realize until I got older that my whole world was within a two-mile radius. And it wasn’t until I went to Oakland School for the Arts and I started going to school with white people I realize that the world was bigger than I thought and that’s when I realized that my identity came into play, like, I am the only black girl in my class. That’s not something that I had to think about before.”

Supportive teachers during her high school years would encourage Johnson to pursue her own path, and Chicago and its music scene fit the bill.

“Chicago is so big so like it really depends on the type of music you like,” said Johnson. “And I like hip- hop and rap.”

But Johnson also lamented that due to the pandemic, she hasn’t had the chance to explore the music scene as much as she would have liked. As the COVID vaccine rollout gives hope life will soon return to normal, Johnson continues to dream about when she will be able to see live music again as she explores her new city safely.

A possible job offer at a Chicago booking agency is also on the horizon and Johnson hopes to hear back from them soon about the job.

“I really want to own my own production company,” declared Johnson of her future plans. “I love concerts. I love shows. I love the feeling that the artists give you when they are on stage. I just want to be there in the theatre. making people feel the way I feel at concerts.”

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Michelle Griego