Hero for Hire

Sammy Johnson was honored for his heroism in helping catch a sexual assault suspect last December. Why is he still out of work?

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.’”

Janice P Ellis December 16, 2011 at 05:43 PM
When it comes to job searching, I've come to believe that, as far as the average hiring manager is concerned, the age of the applicant trumps nearly everything else. At 56, Mr. Johnson's age, combined with the poor job market, is more than likely what has resulted in his being out of work for the last two years. And, I speak from experience. At 59, I've been out of work for a little over two years. I have solid work experience (which includes 14 years with AT&T) and great skills. I've been taking online computer science courses for the last year at DVC (where I have a perfect 4.0 GPA), a great personality AND a great work ethic. But, no one will hire me. A few weeks ago, after being contacted by the HR department of a Pleasanton sales and marketing company, I had the best interview I had ever had in my life. But, despite the assurance of a second interview, I've never heard from the person I interviewed with again. (And, yes, I did follow-up with her after the interview). I applaud Mr. Johnson's never-give-up attitude. I really hope he gets the Walnut Creek gig, because, let's face it, being a part-time greeter at the Dollar Store isn't going to pay very many bills. And, I doubt that he would even be interviewing for that position were it not for the fact that Dollar Tree wasn't trying to score some company PR points by hiring him because of his heroism that day. Employment age discrimination is running rampant - and every hiring manager knows it.


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