One-time homeless Johnson looks for next challenge after graduation from Rickards
[subtitle] BEATING THE ODDS[/subtitle]
By Damon Arnold
Darius “BJ” Johnson could hardly contain his emotions. His eyes welled up with tears.
Johnson was experiencing a day that he thought would never come. Even more surprising, his mother witnessed it all this past Saturday as her 18-year-old son marched across the Civic Center stage with the rest of his Rickards High School graduating class.
It was a huge accomplishment for Johnson, who just two years ago was homeless and overwhelmed with a sense of hopelessness.
Johnson was just 6-years-old when his mother left him in a house to fend for himself rather than give up her drug habit.
At the same time, his father was in prison.
It left a painful vivid memory.
“All I can remember is that my mom had left me in the house with two of my sisters,” Johnson said a few hours before he took the biggest step in his life. “She told me she was going to get me some pizza and she never came back. I was in diapers but I still remember it because it had such a big affect on me.
“She was the first woman to break my heart.”
Johnson never gave up on his mother, Theresa Johnson, though. They stayed in contact through her years of addiction. In an odd kind of way, she admitted that the son she’d abandoned to be her support system from a far.
“Even though I had my struggles in life, and I didn’t do a great job with BJ because of those struggles he stood strong,” she said. “He could’ve gone the other way, but he didn’t. BJ has become my inspiration. We’re going to get stronger as mother and son. He wants me to keep doing what I’m doing, staying on the right path in life. Staying happy and drug free.”
That’s the reason she was able to attend her son’s graduation, hardly being able to keep a dry eye.
BJ’s survival after his mother left beganwhen his grandmother stepped in. She took custody of BJ and his siblings.
“That was my mom and dad at the same time,” he said. “My grandmother didn’t want me to think about the stress, the pain and the struggle that my mom had put me through so she put me in baseball.”
Baseball became his reprieve. He eventually became a star player for the Raiders and recently signed to play at Iowa Lakes in Iowa.
But he had to overcome yet another adversity when his grandmother died almost two years ago, following a lengthy illness.
It was almost unbearable.
“My grandma kind of got sick my freshman year because she always smoked cigarettes,” he said.
“When we talked to each other I always told her to stop, but I knew what she meant when she said she kind of needed them to help her keep her cool and to be calm. I would always tell grandma ‘no, no that ain’t good for you,’ but she still did what she wanted to do.”
He wishes it wasn’t so.
“That day took a really, really big toll on me, to where I had tried to commit suicide that night,” he said. “I just went crazy because my whole world; my whole life revolved around that woman.”
Johnson eventually found himself alone. Both of his siblings left — one for New Jersey and one to Jacksonville. Johnson couldn’t keep up the living expenses and eventually moved in with his mother, who was sharing a home.
He felt uneasy, remembering how his mother had abandoned him as a child.
“I didn’t want to allow my mom to do what she had done to me again,” he said. “I was scared to be left again. I stayed with them for a few months and then I told them I was going to stay somewhere else, I never told them that I was going to go and stay in my car.”
The car was his grandmother’s. He lived in it for a few months. Things began to change again for Johnson, this time for the better when his baseball coaches invited him to spend the Christmas break.
He felt at home as the family hung a stocking with his name on it. There were gifts under the tree for him, too.
He’d found a home at last. The family guided him through his senior year of high school until graduation.
Now he’s looking forward to keeping a promise he made to his grandmother before her death.
“I made her a promise that I was going to go to college and play baseball,” Johnson said. “That I was going to finish high school. I’m doing it!
“I know she’s smiling big, and that she’s very happy.”