Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Student success profile: Single mom perseveres through hardships

Artisha Johnson
Artisha Johnson is the embodiment of perseverance.

Homeless, hungry and – at 16 years old – a single mom, Johnson bought a ticket for a Greyhound bus trip west to California at the dawn of the Great Recession, only to find life in the Golden State as challenging as the one she left behind in Chicago. Eviction notices and long days at low-paying jobs were the norm.

Then she discovered Grossmont College.

“There were times when we had no food and no money, and I said I was not going to put my son through this,” Johnson recalled. “The only way things were going to get better was if I was to get an education. So I enrolled at Grossmont.”

Working two jobs to put herself through college, Johnson graduates in June with an associate degree in University Studies: Humanities & Fine Arts. She is set to enroll this fall at San Diego State University, where she is aiming to secure a bachelor’s degree in Africana Studies. From there, Johnson plans to pursue a master’s degree in Writing and Rhetoric before launching a career teaching Black Literature at the college level.

Johnson was one of 42 Grossmont College students recognized recently as a Student of Note. The students are nominated by faculty and staff to be honored for overcoming obstacles on their way to graduation.

“Artisha has managed to succeed despite all that she has gone through, and I think that can only serve to inspire others,” said Veronica Romero, an EOPS Program Specialist who has worked closely with Johnson. “She is a very strong person and a very strong student.”

Artisha and her son, Michael
Johnson’s odyssey began when she became pregnant at 15. The baby would never meet his father, and Johnson would raise the child, whom she named Michael, on her own. Her life would change profoundly, not only because of the ensuing hardships, but because she would devote herself to her son.

“We all go through challenges and obstacles,” Johnson said. “But I didn’t look at it like I was a struggling parent. I just knew that I had a baby who I had to take care of and I was going to take care of him by any means necessary.”

In fact, Johnson is not unique. U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that single mothers are raising 24 million children in America, and nearly 30 percent of women in the labor force are single parents of young children.

Johnson was determined to beat the odds. Suffering from postpartum depression, Johnson set out with her newborn for California to live with family and ended up in El Cajon.

“I had never heard of El Cajon before,” Johnson said. “It was like culture shock.” She soon returned to Chicago and went back to high school, leaving her son at on-campus daycare during the day and with babysitters while she worked at night.

Later, she decided to give California another shot. She graduated from El Cajon Valley High School in 2008.

The routine, though, was the same. Baby. Work. Sleep – or lack thereof. “I was working at a Jamba Juice in Hillcrest,” Johnson said. “I decided I had enough. It was time to go back to school.”

Not only did Johnson devote herself to her studies at Grossmont College, she also secured two jobs, one as a teacher’s assistant, the other at the English Writing Center.

“She is compassionate, diligent and knowledgeable,” said Cynthia Koether, who is Johnson’s supervisor in the Writing Center. “And she is a very hard worker.”

Johnson said Grossmont College has changed her.

“I would recommend it to anyone and everyone,” Johnson said. “Not just the college itself, but everyone there is so amazing. It is an amazing school that provides amazing support. I’ve had just a wonderful experience.”

Meanwhile, Johnson volunteers weekly in her son’s classroom at Madison Avenue Elementary School in El Cajon. Michael, who turns 8 in July, is finishing up the second grade.

“He tells me every day that he’s proud of me,” Johnson said. “He is my motivation.”