Without a doubt, homelessness is a terrifying situation to find yourself in. Even before the current coronavirus, more than half-a-million people spent the nights on the street every evening. However, those without homes are not without hope. Just as this formerly homeless teen, who managed to recently graduate college – on the Dean’s List no less!
Hope For A Better Future
The incredible young woman is Autumn Hope Johnson, and she knows all too well the struggles of poverty. “It’s terrifying. I’m scared for those families. I’m scared for the children,” Johnson said. After the recession of the early 2000s, Johnson and her younger brother’s single father lost their home in Florida. As such, they ended up homeless, sleeping in a yellow delivery truck.
If Johnson looks familiar, there’s a good reason. She and her family appeared on 60 Minutes in 2011, discussing the effects of the Great Recession on their life. “It’s an adventure,” Johnson said at the time. While many might feel ashamed at a lack of a home, the thoughtful teen said she did not. “You do what you need to do, right?” Thankfully, Johnson’s future looks much brighter than her past…
Receiving A Proposal
Believe it or not, Johnson’s incredible journey actually began with her appearance on 60 Minutes. “Maybe 10, 15, 20 minutes after our segment ended, there were people in our community who drove up and said, ‘Hey, we wanted to give you some things’. That was when it really hit for me that there are people who are out there who really do care still,” the formerly homeless teen remembered. Little did Johnson know, more than her fellow Floridians watched the show.
In the 60 Minutes interview, Johnson had worn a hand-me-down Stetson University t-shirt, without a second thought. As it turns out, the president of Stetson, Wendy B. Libby, saw the segment and immediately contacted the family. When Libby finally got a hold of them, she offered Johnson something incredible: a full scholarship. “It was incredible. And it — honestly, it changed my life,” Johnson said.
Over the next few years, the homeless teen went through some serious ups and downs. Johnson’s father lost custody of her and her brother, they entered the foster system, and moved around from family to family, until finally settling down in 2016. However, through it all, Johnson continued to study, and when it came time, Stetson accepted her!
She Finally Shared Her Story
Finally at Stetson University, Johnson quickly blended into the large student body. “That’s how I wanted it. I mean, a part of me did want to update the world that I finally made it, and I was here, but at the same time, like, I just wanted to be a normal kid,” she remembered. Johnson did so well in school that she made the Dean’s List every year! Then, as a junior, one of her professors, Professor Rajni Shankar-Brown, encouraged Johnson to share her story. So she did! Once again, 60 Minutes covered the story, sharing with the world this incredible story of a homeless teen.
“It was amazing — just because it took so much strength for Autumn to have to come out, right, and to have to share that story, and to be vulnerable in front of hundreds of people,” Shankar-Brown said. “We had everybody in tears, but in a good way because hearts were opened.” Now, ten years have passed since Johnson has lived in the yellow truck, and she’s graduated with a degree in law, on the Dean’s List. Meanwhile, her brother has also started studying at Stetson University!
“There are times where I look back, and I’m like, ‘I shouldn’t even be here,'” Johnson said. “But I know that this is a gift, and I’ve learned to accept gifts, and I’m thankful for it.”