Sonja Johnson married a drug lord after graduating from high school, though she didn’t know it at the time. She said they got high together on their wedding night, and she battled addiction for the next 18 years.
She wasn’t around much to raise her five daughters. But after getting clean in 1994, Johnson, 55, chose family.
In a way, she’s come full circle. Johnson’s mother took care of Johnson’s kids. Now, Johnson looks after three of her grandchildren as one of her daughters struggles with addiction and another tries to find stable housing.
“I made a few bad choices in life and got back on the right track,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t turn back the hands of time, so I devoted my life to my grandchildren because I missed a lot of my children’s lives.”
Johnson first gained custody of her grandson, Yasir Robinson, 10, when he was just a baby. He has special needs and after recently retiring from a career working with the disabled, Johnson felt she was the right person to help. In 2016, she gained custody of her granddaughter Jay’miiah Long, 11. Two years ago, Antwanette Adger, 18, moved in with Johnson to help with the household after Johnson was diagnosed with a more minor form of the bone disease osteoporosis and couldn’t bend over to tie her shoes.
Since receiving treatment, Johnson moves around better, but she was overwhelmed by stress a few months ago when she realized she needed to move her family.
She and her three grandchildren shared a small two-bedroom, one-bath apartment in southwest Berkeley. Johnson slept on the couch so her grandkids could take the bedrooms, but the situation was uncomfortably cramped and she wanted her 18-year-old granddaughter to have more privacy.
She gave her 30-days notice and started looking for a new home. The places she found were too small — that is, until she saw a three-bedroom, 850-square-foot townhouse in East Oakland. But she couldn’t afford the pricey deposit.
“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where my grandkids were going to go,” she said. “We probably would have bumped up in a truck or something.”
That’s when she heard about the Season of Sharing Fund. The fund works year-round to prevent homelessness and hunger in the nine-county Bay Area. All donations go directly to help people in need, with administrative costs covered by The Chronicle and the Walter and Evelyn Haas Jr. Fund.
The fund took care of the deposit, and Johnson and her grandchildren moved into their new home in July. She decorated the space with wallpaper, family photos, plants and turquoise pillows. On a typical day, she might be taking her grandkids to school and dance classes, helping with homework and generally making sure they stay out of trouble.
“I wouldn’t have it no other way,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without them.”
Kara Hodge, an intake specialist with Alameda County, assisted Johnson and described her as a sweet woman who just needed a little help. Johnson’s love for her grandkids was obvious to Hodge.
“I rarely encounter grandparents who are that involved in their grandchildren’s lives,” Hodge said. “She’s like a second mother figure.”
Johnson most recently worked as a case worker at Arc of the East Bay, an organization that helps people with disabilities find work and build skills. She joined as a job coach in 1999 and spent 10 years there before retiring.
Now, church is an important fixture in Johnson’s life. On Sundays after services, she and her grandkids feed homeless folks in West Oakland. Johnson said she’s always struck by the number of families with young children in tents there.
“I just praise God,” she said, “because it could have been me.”
Read the full article at: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Raising-grandkids-a-former-addict-finds-an-14888872.php
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