With heart to God and hand to man, I will stand firm in my beliefs on God's word, use my God-given gifts to help the world, and be a beacon of life and hope to every life I encounter. ~Beverly Black Johnson
Beverly Black Johnson hails from the San Francisco Bay Area, born in the liberal city of San Francisco, and raised in East Palo Alto, CA from the age of six. The youngest of four, if asked to define her childhood she would say in one word, lonely. With older siblings off to school or activities Beverly was yet too young to participate in, she would find herself creating “imaginary playmates” by around age six or seven, to fill the gap of loneliness. This would later manifest into the depression she endured later in life.
By age 17 Beverly would experience the death of her step-father, the suicide of her closest friend and only brother, Homer Joe Black Jr., and would barely graduate high school in 1977. Though she showed up every day, she cut class a lot and started acting out. As a result of losing her brother she began to believe the world thought there was something seriously wrong with her. Her life had never been touched by a tragedy so close.
By then friends and peer pressure would play its role leading to experimenting with marijuana. She’d already experimented with the bad habit of smoking cigarettes back in 8th grade. It seems like all the adults did so naturally as kids, it was associated with maturity. When her mother found out about the weed, she admonished her belief that one drug led to another and did not condone her use of marijuana, but with Beverly home alone while her mom worked nights, there was little to stop what was to unfold.
After high school, between 1977 and 1980, she made several attempts to attend college only to drop out, yielding her destiny to a booming electronics industry. She would learn the trade from laser’s to electrodes and everything in between. This trade would prove valuable for over 20 years.
In 1982 she gave birth to her first child, a very healthy baby boy. He was just 2 months old when Beverly returned to work as an R & D Technician for a government contractor paying really well. It was around these years that Beverly would be introduced to a myriad of drugs from the small circle of influencers, and friends. These drugs include snorting cocaine and smoking hashish laced marijuana. What her mom already knew would happen, inevitably did happen. One drug did in fact lead to another.
By 1983 crack cocaine hit the scene and a red flag went up in Beverly’s spirit. Even though she felt it deep in her heart that it would have grave consequences, it was too much to resist when it hit the “trusted circle” of friends. Friends that, like Beverly, were ironically also health conscience. Long before the drugs, was the common interest of wholeness with nature, the creator, and the benefits of an all natural diet. The appetite that came with smoking weed just made matters better for their social consciousness but lurking behind the shadows coming fast to the forefront was the demon that broke all hell loose. CRACK! When they took their first puff off that crack pipe they were inevitably hooked on its effects not knowing the hell to be unleashed in their lives, the lives of their families, the community that became a violent ghost town, and the dim future. People started losing their minds!! After that would follow the loss of jobs, homes, people, and trust. If you were on crack-you were not to be trusted. All that was left to respect was the code of the streets, which had quickly become a town of the living dead. East Palo Alto, California-murder capital of the world!!
Crack Baby I
In 1984 Beverly gave birth to an underweight, crack addicted baby girl, in the ambulance racing down Cooley Avenue towards Stanford Hospital. By the ages of 3 and 5, the kids were brought into the "system" by her father, who also arranged for Beverly to deal with her warrants collected from shoplifting to feed her drug habit, vowing not to lose another child, the only one he has left. While her mother and sisters fought tirelessly to keep the kids together in a system evoking more divide than unity, Beverly's bout with drugs continued, save for a few breaks in between brief stays in county jail or treatment programs.
Years later after going in and out of drug programs, jail and the streets, Beverly moved to Oakland to assist in her father’s general contracting business and to “get clean.” Beverly became active in the reunification process to have her children returned to her as she began to clean up her life. During this time she would meet a special man at work who would later become her first husband. He also took part in the visits with her first two children. When she became pregnant, her boyfriend decided they would make it an official family and they married in Reno, Nevada in July 1991. Their joy would be short lived because Beverly would be forced by the child welfare system to move back to San Mateo County or risk her current children being moved to a foster home in the county of her residency, Oakland CA. To prevent the uprooting of her children, Beverly hesitantly moved back to East Palo Alto, "the old hood and the old friends", only for the drug cycle to begin again.
Crack Baby II
In less than six months she gave birth to a baby boy at a friend’s house. After her husband drove her to the East Palo Alto fire station, Beverly and baby were transported to the hospital via ambulance. The baby, who tested positive for crack, wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital with her. This era of babies were dubbed “crack babies”. The police showed up to the hospital to arrest her for attempted manslaughter but God had other plans. See this is the same baby that her husband, in a drug-induced rage, threatened to cut out of her stomach forcing Beverly to make the decision of locking herself in a bedroom and jumping out of a window to save his life. No, God has other plans.
Free At Last
On February 24, 1992 Beverly got the answer to her prayer, “Lord, please don’t let me die out here before I can get my kids back and raise them into adults with morals of value-in my parent’s lifetime.” After a failed attempt at “petty theft” Beverly came out of hiding into the handcuffs of the waiting police so they wouldn’t arrest her husband, who, at the time didn’t even know what was happening. As soon as the handcuffs went on she felt like she was FREE AT LAST!!
In 1993, she and her husband divorced but Beverly stayed on her path to recovery and to getting back with her children. She wasn’t letting anything stop her. Beverly did complete the reunification process, and did regain custody of ALL her children. She was told she would never get her baby boy that tested positive. She regained custody of him when he was 18 months old. The two eldest children she was told would be, and should have been adopted out within 24 months or so of entering the system 8 years prior, but God had other plans.
From Crack Pipe to Publishing
Beverly has been “crack-free” since February 24, 1992 and eventually returned to her first love, writing. Her story will be told in a full biographical account of her life’s trials and tribulations.
In 2003, she founded the award-winning Gumbo for the Soul Publications which has garnered the support many notables including artist Synthia SAINT JAMES, Tavis Smiley, Bruce George, Shelia M. Goss, Dr. Julia Hare, Marvin Winans Jr., and George C. Fraser, to name a few.
She continues to aspire with writing, having published Gumbo for the Soul: The Recipe for Literacy in the Black Community (2007), Gumbo For The Soul: Here's Our Child, Where's The Village?(2008), Gumbo for the Soul: Women of Honor-Special Pink Edition (2010), heightening awareness of breast cancer while honoring women that have made a difference in the lives of the anthology submitter's, and counterpart, Gumbo for the Soul: Men of Honor (2012), focusing on prostate cancer, and honoring men. Along with Beverly’s father, the late Homer J. Black, Sr., some of the honorees include Michael Jackson and Bishop Desmond Tutu.
A Wretch Like Me
Life has been no cake walk but now that Beverly has turned hers around she has much to be thankful for. Her biography under development titled “From Crack-Addict to change-Agent,” will detail her life’s trials and tribulations. She lost her mother in 2007, but not before thanking her for her relentless fight to keep her first two children from being separated by the system. She still struggles with the pain of her family being ostracized during her mother’s sickness, and not being allowed to attend the funeral. “I don’t know another human being that couldn’t go to their own mother’ funeral. How does one get a grip around that?” Beverly showed her gratitude in the book, “Here’s Our Child-Where’s The Village” and also dedicated “Women of Honor” published in 2010, to her mother. She was also able to show her gratitude to her dad before his passing in 2009 for helping her through her life journey, and with the seed money to start Gumbo for the Soul Publications. He is acknowledged in “Men of Honor” published in 2012.
Beverly and her Tribe
Beverly’s third child did thrive beyond what the medical expectations predicted, and seems to error on the “genius” side. Beverly gave birth a fourth time to a beautiful girl, now a teen, who is working towards a high school diploma. They all now have their own stories to tell. One has had four heart surgeries, one has had two back surgeries, one suffered a third degree burn that didn’t leave a scar, and one survived crossing a busy street at night as a toddler having newly discovered opening doors, two were born healthy in the hospital, one in an ambulance, and one at a friend’s house without a hospital in site, and two were born addicted to crack cocaine . By the grace of God, all are alive and well. What God has done in their lives is nothing short of a miracle.
Beverly’s testimony bears truth that all things are possible through Christ Jesus. Beverly was pulled out of an 8 year crack addiction, her children were protected through many tribulations, and allowing them all to live to testify about it is truly a Blessing from God.
Beverly started Gumbo for the Soul Literacy Program as an outlet for her award winning publications company, Gumbo for the Soul, to give back to the community. Gumbo for the Soul Literacy Program (501)(c)(4) community outreach offers workshops, performs community service and has donated books since its first publication in 2007. Each book the company publishes aligns with an organization to which they donate the fruits of labor in time, donations, and deed.
Supporting the San Jose Family Supportive Housing by giving time and donations since 2006, as a former resident, Beverly is grateful to give back with donations, time and educational material | clothing and monetary donations. She was honored to be the keynote speaker at Bellermine College Preparatory | Soup Kitchen Fundraiser 2006, on behalf of her experience as a former resident at the shelter. Beverly was noted as the only resident since the shelter opened its doors to have ever successfully completed the transition to employment and independent living.
Beverly is passionate about education and wellness.