Jamaal Johnson, HOPE Farm’s new Head of Outreach & Parent University Coordinator, brings a significant perspective to his work at HOPE Farm because of his experiences growing up without a father in the home.
HOPE Farm: Jamaal, describe your childhood.
Jamaal: I remember my dad was not around – he lived 20-30 minutes away and never came to see me. My dad was not a typical dead-beat dad – he didn’t do drugs, he wasn’t in jail – he had a job – he was in the Navy. He just got hurt by my mom. My mom was on drugs and often had shady people in the house. I remember walking in the room, and she had something sticking out of her arm and she was laying with a random person. The underlying theme
in my life was fear. I was always fearful. I was always hungry.
HOPE Farm: Was there anyone or any place that encouraged you?
Jamaal: At one point we moved and there was an after-school Christian place nearby where I went. I didn’t know anything about the Bible. I was a typical inner-city kid: I knew about God but nothing about the Gospel. The first story I ever heard out the Bible was about David. I gravitated toward it because David was everything I wasn’t. One, I
feared everything, and David feared nothing. David was bold. I wasn’t bold. He had a relationship with God and I didn’t have a relationship with anyone.
HOPE Farm: At a certain point, kids who are living in trauma realize that their environment is not normal. When did this happen to you?
Jamaal: I ended up meeting the Brown Family. I met them through my youth Pastor, and they came to help after school with homework. I started meeting these Christian families and I realized there was something different about them – something different than my family.
I was in survival mode. My mom was on drugs and would leave us 2-3 weeks at a time. I was the middle child of 5, and we were just scraping by. The Brown family realized what was happening and they took me in. Dealing with trauma and then getting put into structure was painful in a lot of ways. I was really quiet. I was taken in by this family and my needs were finally being met. I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.
When I was 12 years old, I accepted Christ. I remember always seeking out God. Was I perfect? No, I wasn’t perfect. But I was hungry for knowledge and healing and I wanted to be whole again.
HOPE Farm: One of the things that you decided early on was that you may not be able to control what happens to you in life, but you could control your response. You went through quite a healing process after you landed in a safe environment where you did not have to be afraid.
Jamaal: After I met my wife, and I knew I wanted to marry her, I knew I had to forgive my father if I was to become a good husband and father myself. I knew where he lived. I knew the Lord wanted me to do this. I heard the Lord because He was telling me I AM YOUR FATHER – don’t expect this man to cry – you are going to forgive him.
I knocked on his door and talked to him and I told him I forgave him for what he had done to me. We talked for 3 hours. He shared his story. We were identical in so many ways. I love horses – he loves horses. He used to sneak out of his house to go to the track and watch them. Our hands were identical – we had so many of the same interests.
It taught me – Jamaal, when you have a family – even if they are not part of your life, they are still like you.
It was a great time of healing for me.