Kyshon Johnson isn’t good at small talk.
The 22-year-old Temple University senior acknowledges that as she opens a black-bound journal full of handwritten notes. She’s majoring in international business but speaks as though she is headed toward a career in psychology.
“I always start conversations off with heavy, deep stuff,” she said. “It may make you feel uncomfortable, but growth is uncomfortable.”
This is what pushed the West Oak Lane native to start the 100 Other Halves project.
Johnson’s goal is to speak with 100 women about their relationships with their fathers, whether good, bad, or nonexistent. She launched 100 Other Halves in August with an Instagram video, saying this was a “journey of sisterhood towards realization, understanding, and healing.”
After each interview, Johnson posts a portion of the story to Instagram. Each post ends with the women sharing the positive characteristics they’ve developed from their relationships with their fathers. For some, it’s optimism, independence, a strong sense of faith, or the pursuit of knowledge. Even if your father wasn’t in your life, there is a relationship with the absence.
At first, Johnson was hesitant about the project. Publicly sharing her own story made her feel vulnerable.
When Johnson was born, her father was incarcerated. He was in and out of her life, and when he was home, she said, there were times when he was violent toward her mother and others. She details this in a very open letter on her website.
She didn’t think much of his absence until she was a senior in high school and she traveled to Andalusia, Spain, as part of an independent study-abroad program. Once there, she immediately bonded with her host father. Despite a language barrier, they watched the Olympics together, played charades, and looked through family albums. She watched as he brought home flowers for her host mother and doted on his daughter.
“Imagine never seeing something like that and seeing it full-fledged for 11 days,” Johnson recalled.
The day she had to leave, Johnson said, he cried. The moment stayed with her, and she’s kept in touch with him since. When she she went to college, all of her new friends had fathers in their lives. But it wasn’t until she and her best friend each went through a breakup that she noticed differences.
“I was devastated, and she knew on days when it was too hard she could call her dad,” said Johnson. “To get advice from a man that loves you, offers reassurance that other people can’t.”
That’s when it occurred to her the impact a father can have on a daughter’s life, she said. “We’re affected by this.”
When Johnson decided to share her story through 100 Other Halves, she immediately created a list of friends to reach out to. She said, “I remember thinking no one was going to sign up.”
But she’s already completed 50 interviews in a little more than a month. On a recent afternoon in Rittenhouse Square, Johnson sat down with No. 50, Kerrivah Heard, 21, a Drexel University journalism student.
“I’m about to turn 22,” Heard said after her interview. “I feel like I’m kind of finding myself and realizing where I want to go in life. I’m on a spiritual journey , so I’m prioritizing forgiveness a lot more, and this is a step in that direction.”
“I think everyone has this image of what a ‘daddyless daughter’ is supposed to be, like we’re walking around broken,” Heard said. “My mom is like my role model. I step up to the plate because she does. For that reason, I feel like there’s nothing I can’t do.”
Heard’s father was also incarcerated when she was born, and she met him for the first time when she was 6. He was sent to prison again when she was 10. Heard takes her time with Johnson’s questions. It’s a topic she’s been avoiding for years.
But it’s what Johnson expects. She said the women were “going to open up wounds [they] didn’t know exist.”
At the end of each talk, she asks each woman to write a letter to her father, without sending it.
“It allows them to remember things that they’ve suppressed,” said Johnson.
To celebrate reaching 50 stories, Johnson now shares on her website “The Butterfly Collection,” two of these anonymous letters each week.
“Some girls can go on for an hour, and in that hour, they’re no longer talking to me,” said Johnson. “It’s like they’re talking to themselves.”
That was the case with Faith Wells, 21. Wells, who is studying for a master’s degree in management and leadership at the American College in Bryn Mawr, said her sister saw the initiative on Instagram and encouraged her to reach out.
“I wanted to shout out my dad and express how he’s why I’ve gotten as far as I have,” Wells said.
As the father of six girls, Wells said, her father is someone she can confide in and admires.
“He would challenge me and ask questions. He would listen to what I had to say and he had a follow-up,” she said. “That encouraged me to speak out, to be open and confident about what I’m saying.”
The decision to portray women with and without fathers was made so both can learn from one another and to remove the stigma of who a woman without a father is. Johnson doesn’t want anyone to feel like a victim.
She watched her mother raise three children and earn an MBA. Johnson adopted that same drive. She plans to host a celebratory event once she reaches her goal of 100 interviews. The full version of the 100 stories will be shared on her website with visuals.
“What I love about 100 Other Halves is that we are healing,” Johnson said. “This is a platform of healing for women.”