A year ago, Sammy Johnson suddenly found himself in the media spotlight. You couldn’t turn on a Bay Area TV news program or open a newspaper without seeing the 56-year-old’s proud, ear-to-ear smile.
On Dec. 1 of last year, the Fremont resident walked into the in the Safeway Shopping Center to buy a few small items. He left a hero.
When he heard a commotion outside of the store, he raced outside, saw a woman in distress and , who was seen .
The child suffered minor injuries and was released to her family shortly after the incident. Ramos has since been until he is competent enough to stand trial.
Johnson and Hawkins were immediately dubbed heroes and recognized the following day for their bravery by the City of Union City. Recently, on Sept. 28, Johnson was again honored with a 2011 Alameda County Red Cross Act of Courage Hero award and received certificates of recognition from local politicians.
But a year and multiple plaques, certificates and words of appreciation later, Johnson is still among the 75,700 people unemployed in Alameda County, according to the state Economic Development Department.
Johnson, an Oakland native, had just moved to Fremont from Florida a week before the atrocious incident. He was looking for work so that he could help out his 72-year-old mother, who suffers from heart problems.
“I came out here to help her and now she’s helping me,” Johnson said.
Though he didn’t use the camera time to advertise that he was looking for work, he thought the brief fling with fame might make him more attractive to employers. That wasn’t the case.
Johnson has now been unemployed for nearly two years.
“It’s an uphill battle, but I’m trying to stay focused,” Johnson said. “There's so many people looking for work. I just hope I see some light.”
He’s lost track of how many jobs he’s applied for, but said he’s often up into the early hours applying for jobs online.
“I apply for anything. I’ll be a janitor, I’ll be a landscaper, I’ll do anything,” he said.
Though Johnson doesn’t have a college degree — he admits wasting a college scholarship by being “young and stupid” and running with the wrong crowd, he said, his work experience paints him as a jack-of-all-trades.
Among his many occupations, Johnson said he was a cosmetologist for 16 years, a car dealer for five years, a warehouse worker, a “house husband” for a brief moment and, most recently, a truck driver. He also dabbled in theater and performed with various gospel and R&B groups as a singer and bass player.
“When I get into something, I don’t care what it is, I’m good,” he said. “I may not have a degree, but I can do the job.”
Johnson said he’s managed to get by working various odd jobs for friends. While he can’t help out his mother financially, he performs various tasks around her Fremont home. On Monday, he cooked her dinner and put up Christmas decorations. “She’s my heart,” Johnson said.
Despite his financial struggles, Johnson continues to remain optimistic.
“You just have to be blessed with what you have,” he said. “I could be homeless. At least I have a place to stay and have something to eat. I have my health and strength; I don’t have anything wrong with me. I’m in better shape than a whole lot of people, so I can’t really be too down.”
But there may be some light for Johnson just yet. He has two job interviews lined up on Tuesday, the first for a part-time evening greeter position at the same Union City Dollar Tree where he became a hero and another at a car dealership in Walnut Creek.
“I just gotta keep on keeping on,” he said, flashing his signature smile. “Somebody will say, ‘Yes.’”