Cephus Johnson and the men of Black Lives Matter

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Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson got the call in the afternoon. “You better get your butt down here,” Patrisse Cullors told him. She was standing on a corner of Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza with five activists from London, each of whom had lost a family member to police violence. They were jetlagged and wearing matching T-shirts. “You’re supposed to be here,” Cullors said.

A self-possessed woman with short, dreaded hair, Cullors is a co-founder of Black Lives Matter. Johnson is the uncle of Oscar Grant, who was shot by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in 2009; he and Cullors have worked together many times. It was a hot day in mid-October, and after a hectic week of speaking engagements Johnson and his wife Beatrice were hoping to spend the day working on their yard. But soon they were in the car and running late, sweating their way through an hour of traffic.

When they got there, the protest was small. The London family members took turns at the mic, crying quietly between stories of arrests, police cover-ups and inquests. When it was Johnson’s turn to speak, he looked instantly energized. A thin-faced man in his late fifties, Johnson speaks quickly with the confidence of a true believer, and as he speaks, he holds eye contact with different audience members in turn. He told the crowd that their voices were heard. “This is critical!” he said. “We have, for the first time, I would say, in the history of the United States an undercurrent, a movement that has taken off behind these types of killings.”

He told them that movement is spreading, and that the system is afraid of them. By his own account, Johnson never practices his speeches, doesn’t speak from notes and gets uncomfortable in front of crowds. Today he looked completely at ease. 

When Oscar Grant was shot on the platform of Fruitvale Station, witnesses filmed his death on their phones from the doors of a nearby train. Their videos went viral, inspiring a wave of demonstrations and riots that rocked Oakland’s downtown. Organizers say that the lawsuits and protests that followed helped lay the groundwork for Black Lives Matter. “This was the tipping point,” said Cullors in a phone interview. Grant’s death was the first high-profile police shooting in a generation, she says, and the first in which social media played a pivotal role in the organizing that followed. Grant himself is now an iconic figure, the subject of murals, t-shirts and arm tattoos, as well as Ryan Coogler’s award-winning film Fruitvale Station.

His uncle, known to fellow activists as “Uncle Bobby,” is now by extension a political figure himself. In the years following his nephew’s death, he’s become a passionate advocate for other families that have lost loved ones to police brutality or racial profiling. When he isn’t meeting families, he’s busy working crowds. Johnson travels constantly. He’s met Angela Davis (“She’s nice, still militant”), Cornel West and Cuba Gooding Jr. (“He said he hated Fruitvale Station,” Johnson said proudly, “because it made his girlfriend cry.”) In October he marched behind Quentin Tarantino in the Rise Up October protests, a three-day series of demonstrations against police brutality in New York City, and then flew to London to meet with the families there, all within six packed days.

“Uncle Bobby in 2008, before Oscar was murdered, is not the same Uncle Bobby in 2015,” said his wife, Beatrice X. Johnson. “He couldn’t have fathomed—he couldn’t have made up—where he is now.”

Johnson is the oldest sibling in a family that he always tried to care for. The Johnsons are a close-knit family with religious roots and an entrepreneurial streak. Johnson’s parents moved to Oakland in the early 1960s; his father, Cephus Sr., worked the graveyard shift on the assembly line of Fremont’s old General Motors plant for over twenty years. He made ends meet selling hot links to coworkers out of his Winnebago; when the crack epidemic hit in the 1980s, Johnson recalled, his father became a smalltime moneylender, spotting the addicts he worked with 25 cents on the dollar. The Johnsons eventually bought a house in Hayward and moved there with their five children. Johnson was a running back in high school and still looks it. Years later, after his father suffered a stroke, it was Johnson who would visit his parents’ house to help him shave, and Johnson who drove up to Hayward from San Jose whenever the motorized wheelchair stalled out. After a stint in the military, Johnson worked for twenty years at the post office, where at least one friend there nicknamed him “Johnnie Cochran” after O.J. Simpson’s famously charismatic attorney.

Grant was Johnson’s first nephew, the child of his youngest sister, Wanda. Johnson remembers him as a smart kid with a radiant smile who loved attention. “He was funny,” Johnson said. “He would make you remember him.” A reverend herself, Wanda saw a future for Grant in the ministry. As Grant got older, Johnson gave him and his friends part time work in his fledgling delivery business, loading the truck and delivering packages. Grant was one of the groomsmen at Johnson’s third wedding. When Grant started getting into trouble in high school, Johnson said, both Grant and his mother kept the details from him. In the years before his death, Grant was arrested five times and incarcerated for a total of two years. In one incident, he was caught with a loaded gun in his car; in another, he admitted to dealing ecstasy to “five to six regular customers” in a sworn statement to Hayward police. When Grant went to prison, Johnson was late to learn he was inside. He never visited him there. “When I really learned about it, it was close to the time he was going to be coming home anyway,” he says. “That was part of this thing that really troubled me.”

In the last weeks before Grant’s death, Johnson thought his nephew was beginning to become “that Oscar he was born to be.” He’d been out of prison for several months, where he’d been a model inmate, earning his GED and learning to cut other inmates’ hair. At Thanksgiving he talked to Johnson about going back to school and asked him questions about starting his own business. New Year’s Eve was also his mother’s birthday, and Grant spent his last morning buying crabs for the gumbo that his grandmother planned to make for the party. Johnson saw his nephew for the last time later that evening. “It was kind of vague,” said Johnson. “I don’t know what we talked about.” Grant, his girlfriend and their friends planned to swing by several parties in San Francisco that night. “I told him, ‘just take BART,’” Wanda Johnson told the Atlantic in a video interview published in 2015. “‘So you’ll be safe.’”

“At 12:40 that night, he was just really heavy on my heart,” said Johnson. “I just felt that in my spirit, something was gnawing at me about him.” He and his wife were at a midnight church service, but he took a moment to send Grant a text. “I told him that uncle loves him, God loves him, God loves his family. An hour and thirty minutes later he was gone.”

In the criminal case that followed, it was established by defense attorney Michael Rains that Grant and his friends were pulled from a crowded train by BART police officers at about 2 am, after participating in what witnesses described as a “bar room fight” in their car. Passengers with cameras and cell phones started filming the arrests immediately. In a grainy video without sound, Grant and his friends are sitting in a neat row against the low wall of the platform, intermittently putting their hands up. In a second video, Grant stands and says something to a wide-shouldered officer with a Marine’s crew cut, who strikes him. Grant sits back down. “Bitch-ass n-, right?” the officer can be heard saying to Grant, in a second video. “Bitch-ass n-?” (The officer later testified he was repeating a slur that Grant had called him.) In a third video, two officers including Johannes Mehserle can be seen forcing Grant to his chest. Mehserle attempts to handcuff him. The passengers on the train are booing the officers and jostling at the doors for a better look. It’s at this point that Mehserle takes out his gun and shoots Grant in the back at close range.

Johnson’s memory of Grant’s death is blurry. He remembers waking up to a call from his mother, or maybe his sister, at 3 in the morning. He drove to his parents’ house and stayed there for the rest of the day, and maybe for several days after that. If he went back home, he doesn’t remember it. In the muddled days that followed, Jack Bryson—whose two sons were seated with Grant on the platform when he was shot—called veteran civil rights attorney John Burris to represent the family. Burris met with the Johnsons at Bonnie and Cephus Sr.’s home. The house was full of Grant’s aunts, cousins and uncles, the table stacked with food from well-meaning neighbors. “You could feel the generational love in that house, with all the family pictures from infancy up to adulthood,” Burris said. “Oscar was a beloved member of their family. He was beloved.”

Johnson says that he must have seen the first video of his nephew’s death the same day he died, though it could have always been a few days later. The first footage of Oscar’s death in fact aired on January 3, 2009, two days after the shooting, on local station KTVU. “When I saw the video, that’s what really pulled me up,” Johnson said. “I remember that morning falling on my knees.”

After the first shaky footage of Grant’s death leaked to the press, the community response was immediate. Within days, the video amassed millions of views on YouTube. On January 5, 20 people picketed BART’s Oakland headquarters. The next day, Burris filed a $25 million wrongful death suit against BART on behalf of Grant’s mother and Sophina Mesa, Grant’s girlfriend and the mother of his child. On January 7, the Johnsons held Grant’s funeral. In the morning, protesters rallied in front of District Attorney Tom Orloff’s office, demanding that he file murder charges against Mehserle. In the evening, hundreds more shut down BART as they marched through Oakland’s downtown. That night, a fringe group shattered the windows of more than 300 businesses, destroying cars and setting fires at intersections. While brief, the riot resulted in 105 arrests and gained national media attention. “The streets were coming alive on their own,” said Cat Brooks, a veteran Oakland organizer and the founder of the Anti-Police Terror Project, an activist group that works to expose and eliminate police brutality.

“This case was the modern-day Emmett Till case,” said Burris, referring to the 1955 death of a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped, beaten and lynched in rural Mississippi by several white residents. Till’s mother insisted on holding an open-casket funeral for her son, and the pictures of his brutalized body created an international media sensation that mobilized activists in the young Civil Rights movement. Burris and multiple Oakland-based activists say that Grant’s death galvanized a similar awakening. “It was so horrific,” said Brooks. His killing unleashed a “groundswell of community outrage,” she said, combined with “the strategic and disciplined and tactical organizing across ideologies, across race, across tactics.”

“It changed the ways folks thought about resisting police terror,” said Brooks. “I believe it opened the door for Ferguson to happen, and for the Black Lives Matter movement to happen.”

In the weeks following Grant’s killing, Johnson says, he didn’t feel emotionally capable of engaging with the activist response. But he was intrigued by how many people in his community were willing to throw a brick through a window for his nephew. “Who are these people?” he remembered thinking. “They don’t know Oscar. What are they doing?”

As Grant became an increasingly politicized symbol, the Johnsons were pressured to speak on his behalf—though some groups were more than happy to do it for them. Grant’s criminal record was widely discussed, said Burris, and his past convictions continue to be used by right-wing bloggers and pundits to imply that he may have provoked the shooting. “There’s a demonization process that takes place in these sorts of cases,” Burris said.

For his part, Burris said he was more concerned that radical activists might “misuse” the Johnsons, manipulating their story to serve their own agendas. “There were a couple of organizations that I thought were over the top in terms of their aggressiveness,” he said. “It was almost like they wanted a trial, and it was like they needed a showpiece for them.” When asked which organizations he was referring to, Burris laughed and said that he’d rather not say.

But the family members were initially reluctant to speak publicly. In the weeks and months following Oscar’s death, Johnson and other activists said it was clear to them that Grant’s mother wasn’t interested in representing the family in either the press or activist circles. (Wanda Johnson declined to be interviewed for Oakland North.) “I understand it,” said Brooks. “I mean, we didn’t ask her permission to make a martyr out of her son.” From a strategic standpoint, Burris said, it’s essential that his clients in police brutality cases stay above the activist fray—and Wanda Johnson was his plaintiff in the civil suit against BART. “I don’t want them on television as an advocate—because ultimately, if the case goes to trial, jurors may remember this and see this, and then your credibility is lost,” he said. “Remember, you’re a victim. Not an advocate. You weren’t an advocate before this happened.”

Johnson didn’t discuss his increased role as a spokesperson with his sister beforehand. He compared his decision to speak for his family to the Biblical story of Aaron, who periodically preached on Moses’ behalf during the Jewish people’s 40-year journey through the desert. “She was unable to speak,” he said. “She was traumatically affected. So I raised myself up so that I could at least speak on her behalf. I felt that responsibility as her big brother and kind of went from there.”

Johnson started studying, reading extensively about the American criminal justice system. He began to attend activist meetings, driving up to Oakland from his home in San Jose two or three times a week. On Saturdays, Johnson sat in on the Nation of Islam’s weekly town hall meetings about the Grant case at Olivet Baptist Church. During the week he went to organizers’ meetings in East Oakland churches, Uptown coffee shops and West Oakland’s Continental Club, an old-school jazz and blues bar. Grant’s death had organically generated a loose constellation of new activist groups, and Johnson tried to go to their meetings, too. He wanted to know what their strategies were, he said.

It was through these meetings and the trial that followed that Johnson met his current wife, Beatrice, an activist who at that time was serving as the Nation of Islam’s director of protocol in Oakland. She noticed the dignified, genuine way that Johnson spoke about his family, she said; she was impressed with the extensive reading that he had done. “He did not let them hijack his nephew—he stayed at the forefront of the fight,” she said. “He sacrificed for a cause bigger than himself.”

Johnson said he made his first official public appearance the April following Grant’s death on a panel at UC Berkeley hosted by local activist group By Any Means Necessary. On January 1, 2010, the anniversary of Grant’s killing, he organized the first vigil for him and paid for it out of pocket. Throughout 2009 and 2010, Johnson spoke at dozens of schools, churches and universities, and made more media appearances than he could count. The crowds that he spoke in front of gradually got bigger. “It was something that just kind of begins to happen—I don’t know if anyone really thinks that they like speaking to big crowds,” he said. “I never felt comfortable, but the issue was just so important that I just had to express how it felt.”

Others say his progression into becoming a spokesperson for his family was more gradual. Burris said that Johnson was also not involved in the legal discussions surrounding the criminal case against Mehserle—the Alameda County District Attorney charged Mehserle with murder on January 13, 2009—nor the civil cases against Mehserle and BART. “He came to one settlement conference I think we had with Wanda once,” he said, “but that was his only involvement, really.” And according to Brooks, he didn’t truly assume the role of the family’s representative until a year after Grant’s death, during Mehserle’s trial in 2010. In the interim, she said, family friend Jack Bryson served as the Johnson family’s liaison with the protesters.

Burris had noticed how smart Johnson was the first time he met him, and he watched his transformation with interest. “I think Cephus is a guy who in another time and place could be me. Or better than me, really,” he said. “You never know what happens in these cases, and who comes out of it. And certainly, for him, this breathed new life into him. It gave a whole new career to him that he took advantage of.”

In 2009, the Mehserle murder trial was moved to Los Angeles after a judge determined that he would be unable to receive a fair trial in Alameda County due to the extensive local media coverage. On June 8, 2010, the jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, for which he served 11 months in jail. To the Johnson family, the sentence was lenient to the point of travesty. “My son was murdered,” said Wanda Johnson in a press conference outside the courthouse immediately following the verdict. “He was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered.”

Days after Johnson returned home from Los Angeles, Oakland police officers shot Derrick Jones, an unarmed barber who was holding a small scale that was mistaken for a gun. If Mehserle’s sentence had been stronger, Johnson remembers thinking, it could have deterred other members of law enforcement from using excessive force. “I can remember just feeling like I had to go meet the family,” he said, “because I felt like we failed.”

Johnson said Derrick Jones’ parents both cried when he met them. He remembers how grateful they were, and how much his time and support meant to them. He continued to work and protest with the Joneses, “going through the whole process” with them. Jones’ parents and daughter eventually received a $225,000 settlement from Alameda County; the officers who shot Jones were cleared of all criminal wrongdoing, and his widow lost the $10 million wrongful death suit filed on her behalf.

For Johnson, the Jones family’s grief and the punishing tedium of the trials that followed were both devastating and cathartic for him. “It was from that moment,” he said, “when the mother cried, and the father cried, that I knew there was power in this.”

In the beginning, Johnson said, he was preoccupied with preserving his nephew’s memory. In August, 2010—two months after Mehserle was convicted, three months before he was sentenced—he created the Oscar Grant Foundation, a non-profit that provides sensitivity trainings for law enforcement officers and outreach to at-risk youth in the Bay Area. Wanda Johnson—who has also become a powerful speaker and spokesperson in recent years—became its CEO in 2014.

That year, Johnson and his wife Beatrice created the Love Not Blood Campaign, a non-profit that works with families that have lost family members to gun violence and advocates against police brutality, inner city gun violence and the overuse of incarceration. Mostly, though, Johnson has met with over a dozen families that have lost loved ones to police brutality and has made dozens of media appearances on his nephew’s behalf. He’s protested the fatal police shootings of Alan Blueford (Oakland, 2012), Andy Lopez (Santa Rosa, 2013) and Richard Perez (Richmond, 2015)—all young men of color.

Johnson became a member of a small, informal but close-knit group of family members grieving the loss of a son killed by law enforcement or, in some cases, racially-motivated civilians. Two days after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, by a police officer in 2014, his father, Michael Brown Sr., and his wife received two visitors at their hotel room. One was Johnson. The other was Ron Davis, whose son Jordan was shot by a white man with a concealed carry license at a Jacksonville gas station in 2012. They didn’t talk about Brown’s son’s death. They just let him know that they were there if he needed them. “I had to welcome him into a club that no one wants to be a member of,” recalled Davis, speaking by phone from Florida.

“We let him know that only you could speak for your son,” said Johnson, “and that he, in many ways, can help the community respond.”

In the weeks and months that followed, Brown Sr. said in a phone interview, he and Johnson talked at least three times a week. “He wanted to know how was my day going, how was I feeling, if there was anything he could help me with,” he said. “Little small things that meant a lot.”

Johnson works like a man on a mission. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of the militarization of police forces, endless energy and a knack for politics. “He can meet somebody and remember their cause, remember their name,” said Davis. “He will spend his last dime to have a panel for you. He will take time off his job to have a panel for you.”

“You know, people call him all the time,” Johnson’s wife said, laughing. “He’ll listen to people when I would have done hung up.”

Johnson says he approaches other families he works with dedication and care, with an eye on which other media or activist outlets may have approached them. He approaches each family with empathy, takes his time. “We always expect caution, of why you’re here,” he said. “It depends on who’s got them wrapped.” If nationally-established Black activists have already embraced families, Johnson said, they can become suspicious of other activists’ motives. “They’re taught in those environments to distrust everyone,” he said.

“It certainly empowers the families to let them know they’re not alone,” said Burris, who says he sometimes recommends that his clients contact the Oscar Grant Foundation for support. “It’s pastoring for them, if you will.”

“Uncle Bobby is amazing,” said Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter. “He really is. He shows up everywhere, he is present for everybody.”

“It means something to get a call from Bobby, or for Bobby to get on a plane and visit,” Brooks said.

The experience of talking to Johnson is unique, Davis said. Only people who’ve lost a child can really understand the connection that families whose loved ones have been killed have to one another. “What makes you laugh and what makes you feel good is different. It’s different now,” Davis said. “You don’t have that complete joy, even when you go somewhere you wanted to go and you have a good time. At the end of the day you wish your son could do it with you. So many times, I smile all day because I’m doing something I really want to do with my family. And at the end of the day I’m sad, I’m almost in tears, because I had a good time but Jordan wasn’t here.”

He began to cry quietly. “And the other people in the world,” he said, “whether they’re your family, or your friends—they start shedding. Like a dog sheds. They just shed away. You used to talk to them once every two weeks, then once every three weeks, then it’s once a month. Then maybe not even once a month anymore. We all experience that, you know. We have to live a different kind of life than we wanted to. Nobody asks to live in this kind of life.”

When Michael Brown Jr. was shot in Ferguson, Johnson was there within 48 hours. Johnson recommended that he take some time to himself if he could, Brown remembers, to gather his thoughts and get himself together. “Stuff that was needed with me,” Brown said. When asked whether or not he was able to take that time, Brown paused. “No ma’am,” he said. “Ever since it has happened, I’ve been moving from left to right to do interviews to make awareness of what was going on and not to let the situation die. It was pretty hard for me.”

By the end of that week, Johnson and his wife knew that Ferguson had changed something. They remember driving through town one night after attending several protests, on their way to visit Brown and his family at a relative’s house. Several members of Emmett Till’s family were driving in a car behind them. As they turned onto West Florissant Avenue, one of Ferguson’s main thoroughfares, they were suddenly in it. Police vehicles were driving towards them, backlighting the clouds of teargas. Protesters were running in all directions. “Get back!” they shouted at the cars. “Get back! Get back!” The Johnsons pulled their car into a careening U-turn, and the Till family followed. When they were at a safe distance they called the Brown family, who sent them on a different route. When Johnson and his wife tell this story, they sound both excited and extremely proud. “Ferguson was the one that popped the lid off,” Beatrice Johnson said.

As Black Lives Matter gains momentum, the onslaught of activist anger, public attention and legal red tape that the Johnson family experienced after Grant’s death is amplified for other families. Activists respond to the killings more swiftly, and Johnsons noticed that families are now quick to get in touch with them. After so many public deaths of Black men and women, Johnson said, “many families have already been practicing, unconsciously, in their heads” what they would do.

Families can experience a strange celebrity status in their grief, something that Johnson is very familiar with. He’s a fan of Ryan Coogler’s movie Fruitvale Station—“The movie was 99.5 percent accurate” he said—and went to multiple premieres.

Other pop culture references to police brutality victims, like T-shirts featuring their names and faces, appear to Brown to be more self-serving. “Our family is suffering still, and there are people that just made over a billion dollars off of my son,” said Brown. “If you want to go get a shirt made, make money off of this, there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Some families’ resulting celebrity status increasingly attracts racist fringe groups and agitators. During the criminal case against the man who shot his son, said Davis, his lawyer received threats from a KKK-affiliated blogger and hired a body guard; in the civil case, his lawyer got a concealed carry license, the irony of which did not escape him. Michael Brown Sr. and his family received death threats. Within a six-week period in 2015, Black Lives Matter protesters were beaten in Alabama, threatened with mass shootings at the University of Missouri and non-fatally shot by four men in the Twin Cities.

According to Davis and Johnson, Black Lives Matter’s lack of formal leadership makes it difficult for others to attack it effectively, violently or otherwise. “They cannot cage this movement,” said Davis, “because there’s no one person to cage.” Like the Oscar Grant protests that preceded it, Black Lives Matter is diffuse: a network of local chapters connected by social media and orbited by people from community organizations, activist groups and religious institutions. While that structure may make organizing more agile, it also brews conflict over goals and tactics. Through the course of reporting this article, several anonymous activists accused others of using the protests to enhance their own public image. Davis alleged that Black Lives Matter founders Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, who both identify as queer, were “not welcome in certain spaces” within several Black churches.

For his part, Johnson has received pushback for his affiliation with the Nation of Islam, a Muslim, Black Nationalist organization with 113 chapters in 31 states and Washington DC, and an estimated 10,000 to 50,000 members. It is also listed as a hate group on a map produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center due the anti-Semitic statements of its leader, Louis Farrakhan. Johnson’s wife Beatrice is an active Nation of Islam member—she now works in their Ministry of Justice—and they find the organization’s critics to be extremely misinformed. “The Nation is the only religious group that can go into a drug-infested community and turn it around, and be consistent in their presence in doing that,” Johnson said. As far as Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic comments are concerned, he said, “name anything that Minister Farrakhan has said that has been a lie.”

Both in Oakland and on the national level, there’s some disagreement amongst the families about supporting peaceful or violent protest. In the aftermath of the Ferguson verdict, Michael Brown Sr. urged demonstrators to protest peacefully. He didn’t feel pressured to, he says; he just felt it was the right thing to do. “What I wanted to do was just to show some respect towards my son,” he said. “I wanted the community to show some respect, too.”

Johnson has a more agnostic approach. “I don’t condemn the person who threw a rock through the window. I don’t condemn the person who got down on their knees to pray,” he said. “I can’t dictate to anyone how to express themselves when they felt that they’ve been stepped on, spit on and disrespected for so long.”

At this point in his activism, Johnson has watched his nephew die 50 to 100 times. Many of his appearances include Fruitvale Station screenings, which recreates the shooting in graphic detail, and activists often play the original videos, too. “You don’t ever get used to it,” he said. “But it reminds me of what I’m doing.” At a few events, he said, “the tears would just come.” These days he often steps out of the movie during the scene when Oscar and his friends are still on the platform, having fun. He worries about Davis, whose son was recently the subject of the HBO documentary 3½ Minutes 10 Bullets. “They have championed him all around this world,” he said. “So he’s going to have—like me, but in a shorter period of time—many, many viewings.”

Like Johnson, Davis feels a duty to reach out to other families, the way that the Johnsons and others reached out to him. But grieving takes a certain type of quiet, he said. “I can’t even grieve the way I would like to until I detach myself from some of these movements,” Davis said, “and say you, know, ‘It’s time. I’ve done as much has I can do for this amount of time.’ At some point, I’m done, and then when I’m done, then I can properly grieve for Jordan.”

“But right now,” he said, “I go to these spaces and I talk to people. When I come home I go in Jordan’s room. And I get on my knees and I say, ‘Jordan, we helped other families, we helped other people.’ Those are my grieving process when I come home and go to Jordan’s room and I’m at one with my son. That’s when I really grieve.”

As for Johnson, he said his grief clarifies his purpose. And when he’s speaking, God helps. “I just allow the spirit that I feel conveying to me the message that I need to deliver,” he said. “We all have a walk to walk in this life.”

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