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Tell your story: “My sister was that light for me.”

I am Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Dean Johnson II and this is my story.

Growing up was not easy. My mother left my father in New York when I was a child, and we were on our own for six years. During those years, her torment of being alone and abused when she was younger started to reflect in her own actions upon me. I went through this trial from age six to 15. I didn’t tell many people growing up, so it bottled up over time. It was a big surprise when I let the cat out of the bag after I decided to run away. Unfortunately, running away was not the first option I considered.

Tech. Sgt. Kenneth Johnson and his parents, Charles and Cynthia Burton. (Courtesy photograph)

Upon leaving one morning to work during the summer, in El Cajon, Calif., in her frustration of chores she felt I didn’t do to her satisfaction-my mother mentioned how much she couldn’t stand me, that she wasn’t sure why she even had me, and that I wasn’t worth anything. Words that pierce my heart even now. The physical abuse was bad enough but this made me feel like I had no purpose on this Earth so I figured, why should I be here? I looked at a knife in the kitchen as I watched her drive off to work and started putting it against my wrist. I cried and shivered as I did this. I hated my life, hated what it had become, and wondered why the heck I deserved to feel like this.

But in one moment, I thought about my baby sister, who at this time was about two years old and staying with my aunt up North. I thought about what my absence would mean to her. I thought about the memories we would not have, I thought about how much I would rob her of her older brother and mentor. I wasn’t willing to do that to her. I put the knife down. This is how I overcame my struggles, by focusing on something positive to keep me moving forward, far away from that idea.

After that day, my runaway excursions commenced. By the end of that same week, I was staying with two awesome caretakers and I’d reached out for help from surrounding teachers, my parents, pastors I trusted, and good friends who had seen me through the entire transition; I felt a lot better. The help I needed was in the people I chose to surround myself with.

The police department, after a swift investigation, agreed with my choice to run away. Soon my caretakers became my foster parents, and eventually my legal guardians.

However, at the end of the day it was the thought of my sister and what she means to me that saved my life. I definitely have no regrets from that process or from my decisions. It taught me a lot about myself and about how strong I really am, and could continue to be, if I choose to focus on the right things.

The message in this is simple I am an advocate of taking care of people as a Master Resilience Trainer, as a Diversity and Inclusion Facilitator and Advisor, as a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and Suicide Prevention Briefer, as an Additional Duty First Sergeant, and particularly in my primary duties within the Force Support Squadron. This allows me the opportunity to bring joy to those around me. My belief in God and service to my country have been my foremost focus for the last 19 and a half years and is what has helped sustain me through any trial and challenge.

I realize how much one smile could mean. I realize how much one pat on the back can mean to someone going through a rough time. I realize how much lending an ear to someone who needs to vent can help them navigate through their personal issues. I learned how much a simple kind word or message can move the hearts of the masses.

If we continue to be the light in our small corners of the world, then darkness would be that much harder to come by. My sister was that light for me. I aim to be that light to those around me and hope that anyone reading this will also join me in doing the same.

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