No one knew she was homeless. Everyone knows her as a vibrant, smiling campus star, involved in the cheer squad, her sorority, student government, non-profit internships, and much more. But very few know that, for fourteen years, Brooke Johnson and her mother have struggled to keep a roof over their heads.
When her little brother was born, their mother lost her job, and the challenge began. They lived on the street, in shelters, in hotels. Then they’d land a place for a little while before the cycle began again. Brooke worked at Kroger during high school, feeling the responsibility of providing for her family and learning how to juggle school and work and a hard life.
As the first in her family to go to college, she had no idea how to pay for school, or how to apply, for that matter. CBU’s admissions counselors guided her through the process, even late in the game, to make sure she had a seat with her class. The Financial Aid office found her the resources to pay for school: grants and scholarships and work-study, and made sure she had a place to live on campus. So Brooke dug in and applied herself to her classes, delving into Psychology and Criminal Studies, and getting as much out of the college experience as possible by joining organizations, serving in leadership roles, working, and making friends everywhere she went. When she graduates in May 2022, she’ll have lessons under her belt that no one – not even she – could have fathomed.
No matter what obstacles or problems I’ve had, CBU has come through spiritually.
But she’ll have more than that: she’ll have a deeper faith, a brighter hope, and an ambitious vision.
As hard as Brooke has worked, she has prayed even harder. Her faith has been tested, and still she trusts that God is in control. “CBU has a strong hold on me,” she says. “There is a more spiritual level here than at most places. No matter what obstacles or problems I’ve had, CBU has come through spiritually. I know I need to go to grad school, but I’m not sure where to go yet. I’m going to research it and pray about it – because that’s what we do.”
She credits Campus Ministry for their inspiration. When she recognized that she was overly busy and in need of support, she signed up for the Busy Person’s Retreat, sponsored by Campus Ministry. “It was just what I needed,” she said. She recalled how her mentor connected with her, listened to her, prayed for her, and “even cried with me. That meant a lot.” And so she was refreshed.
When COVID overtook campus and the world, the isolation overtook Brooke with a depression that incapacitated her to the point that she could give no attention at all to her schoolwork. She failed, quite literally. But Brooke found strength from the advice of Beverly Word: “I’ve failed, and I’m still here, doing what I love. It’s ok to fail. You won’t always.” So she retook classes in the summer and knocked out an A and B to find once more her path to success.
Making the world a better place is just one way she wants to say thank you to those in the Christian Brothers University community and to show them how grateful she is for the opportunity and support she has had here. As she tells the stories of Erica Mitchell’s help in admissions and Connie Beck’s mentoring in SGA and chaperoning on a trip to Florida, Dr. Paul Dunnaway’s encouragement and Dr. Kelly James’s intense care for her students and fantastic teaching, the value of her NICE internship placements via Amy Ware and the watchcare of Wilson Phillips, Beth Gerl, and Alton Wade, Brooke’s eyes sparkle and her smile lights up. She exudes appreciation.
Brooke’s friends ask her, “How are you so famous?” but she doesn’t even understand their question. She doesn’t see herself as special. She only sees the challenges and opportunities ahead. “I can’t believe I’m about to graduate,” she remarked. “I don’t feel like I’ve done enough” even though her fingerprints are all over CBU.
Just as she has made a tremendous impact here, she’s going to do great things in the world. Her passion for life and for CBU’s motto “Enter to Learn, Leave to Serve” is bolstered by a deep spiritual commitment, one that will fuel her vision: to open a non-profit homeless shelter that offers single parents both educational and professional resources to get back on their feet.
Because she knows the need.
And because that’s what Bucs do.