Conflict is Opportunity: with Komoia Johnson, PhD

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By JR Valrey, Black New World Media

Although Oakland is a small, beautiful town that is known for its working class art, and culture, it is known most for its resistance in the Black world. Historically speaking, over the decades it has been home to the Pullman Porters, the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the movement for ethnic studies in community colleges, the Black Panthers, the Young Comrades, and more. 

Frederick Douglas once said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Among other ways to fight, vocally addressing conflict is an age-old ritual of speaking truth to power in Oakland, while at the same time we recognize that conflict does not just exist on a community or political level, everything in society starts at a personal and individual level. We first learn how to deal with conflict within our homes with our families, but the question is are we doing it, among ourselves, in a healthy manner that is conducive to the family structure and community-building? 

Komoia Johnson, PhD, hailing from East Oakland has a doctorate in Educational Psychology, and formerly worked with the Oakland Unified School District as a Program Manager for Restorative Justice with a focus on elementary schools. She provided supervision, coaching, and support for Restorative Justice practitioners, classroom teachers, and school wide implementation.

Currently, she trains, coaches, and provides direct service to higher education communities and TK-12th grade stakeholders (students, faculty, administration, and families) as well as community based organizations and corporate workplaces, as a consultant. She has a zoom presentation coming up on Saturday, at 1pm on Zoom. If you are available, please tune in for this valuable info that she is teaching for free. 

JR Valrey: Can you talk to us a little bit about what your presentation on conflict will entail?

Komoia Johnson, PhD: We will explore the concept of conflict as it relates to the human responses, the “undercurrent” reasons, and what tools could be helpful when experiencing conflict. Conflict is normal. It just means that our differences are outweighing our similarities at the time. If we begin to view conflict as an opportunity to learn something new about the other person, then we can respond instead of react when we are in conflict. A response occurs when our “executive brain” (prefrontal cortex, basal ganglia, and thalamus) is still in control; that is when we can make well thought out choices. A reaction occurs when our “reptilian brain” [basal ganglia (striatum) and brainstem] are in control because we are triggered. 

JR Valrey: Why is it important for us to study conflict, instead of just responding and forgetting about it?

Komoia Johnson, PhD: Dealing with conflict can be very uncomfortable for many people, even when they are the responsible party.  When most conflict goes unaddressed, an issue that began small can quickly manifest into something that is too big to handle.  When small conflicts become larger, the original conflict gets convoluted and our brains begin to supplement missing information with assumptions that reiterate our negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  We enter into a victim-villain situation.  When we address conflict as it arises, we decrease the chances of entering into the same types of conflict in the future while increasing our ability to respond rationally.

JR Valrey: Why do you feel that this is an important lesson for the Black community to talk about?

Komoia Johnson, PhD: In my opinion, conflict as it relates to the Descendents of the African Enslaved People in America, is complex because of our generational marginalization and oppression.  We have intra and inter conflict that can contribute to our self-perception and communal perception.  As a result, our behaviors can be dictated based on fear for our families because we want our families to be safe.  Therefore, we can sometimes cause conflict by projecting our fears and life experiences onto others.  Interrupting this cycle through increasing our knowledge and changing our behaviors, about conflict and how it manifests, we can plant healthy conflict resolution seeds for future generations.  

JR Valrey: Who are you doing the presentation for?

Komoia Johnson, PhD: I was invited to speak for an hour to parents and their children but the presentation is for anyone who wants to increase their knowledge about conflict.  The goal is to have all of the key points transferable to any relational situation.  Therefore, the knowledge shared can be used in the home and in the workplace.     

JR Valrey: How could people tune in, and stay in touch with you?

Komoia Johnson, PhD: I am currently designing a few virtual gatherings where people can increase their knowledge about restorative justice, conflict resolution, and effective communication.  In the meantime, I can be reached at: or at (510) 646-1528







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