Power Couple: Nkenge Harmon Johnson and Erious Johnson

Nkenge Harmon Johnson and Erious Johnson

Two lawyers and activists aim to make Oregon live up to its progressive reputation.

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Nkenge Harmon Johnson | Erious Johnson

N.H.J: President, CEO, Urban League of Portland
Born, Yuma, Arizona; raised, Portland and Salem
J.D., Howard University School of Law

E.J.: Attorney, entrepreneur, activist
Born, Brooklyn, New York
J.D., Howard University School of Law

How we met
Howard University School of Law | 1999

Howard University logo

N.H.J.: “We met on the very first day of school. We have been classmates, teammates and have competed against each other. We were really close but didn’t start dating until after law school.”


E.J.: Trial attorney, City of New York, law clerk, New York state Supreme Court | 2004-2012 
Director, Civil Rights Unit, Oregon Department of Justice | March 2014-September 2017

 N.H.J: Communications, campaigns staffer, U.S. Congressional Representatives and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee | 2003-2010


E.J.: “I was living in New York. Nkenge was in D.C. I would call her at 6 a.m. saying, ‘I’m about to get in front of the jury: What should I tell them?’”

 N.H.J.: “A Senator named Barack Obama decided he wanted to run for office. I moved to Colorado; we won that state, by the way.”

First Rock Baptist Church, Prospect, Virginia | 2012

Before 1

N.H.J.: “His grandmother was turning 100, and everyone had gathered in the family church. My husband gets up and says, ‘I can’t think of a better time to show my love for the woman I love. Then he bends on one knee.”

La Romana, Dominican Republic | September 2012
Self-solemnization ceremony
Boulder, Colorado | November 2012



N.H.J.: “Colorado is the only state where you can self-solemnize, no judge, no priest, no friend who got licensed at a Unitarian church. You pick up your marriage license and have a ceremony.”

Move to Oregon | March 2013

N.H.J.: “The idea was to become country lawyers. We were starting a law practice.”

E.J.: “I had signed up a couple of cases, but it was a different mentality in Oregon. To understand the language, the smiles, I needed a job in the system. That’s where the job with the attorney general came in.”

erious meeting

In 2016, the Johnsons filed suit against employer DOJ for putting Erious under digital surveillance. The October 2017 settlement with DOJ required vacating his position.

E.J.: “My wife drove the suit. When it’s time for battle, she clicks in.”


N.H.J.: “In D.C., I was always boastful about Oregon. We have a great congressional delegation. Then when I moved back home, I was so disappointed. But we’re staying. I want Erious to have what Oregon is supposed to be.”

nkenge meeting

E.J.: I’m working on my memoirs, have a couple of screenplays. I would like to start a rap battle league. I’ve been doing some sculpting.”

erious sculpture

Marital communications

2017 10 26 08 46 46 1


N.H.J.: “We like to cook and bake. We’ll stop by our favorite WinCo, grab shrimp, crab and do a good seafood boil. I make pie crust, and he turns them into pop tarts, man snacks.”


 A version of this article appears in the November/December issue of Oregon Business.