AIAN speaker works to humanize Alaska homeless

Motivational speaker, storyteller, musician, and homeless activist Samuel Johns’ favorite quote is from theoretical physicist Albert Einstein: "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”

It is that passion and curiosity that led Johns, an Athabascan (a Native Alaskan people) to found the Forget Me Not Movement, an effort to draw attention to and help address homelessness in Anchorage, Alaska.

The goal is “to humanize the homeless population,” said Johns, the keynote speaker at the National Caucus of American Indian/Alaska Native School Board Members Luncheon Saturday at NSBA’s annual conference in Denver.

The movement was born in 2015, when a homeless woman approached Johns asking for spare change. He responded by buying her snacks and then took the time to ask where she was from.

That conversation sparked Forget Me Not, a public Facebook group where Johns and administrators post information about homeless individuals (with their permission), helping reconnect them to their families and culture, often in rural Alaska. In some cases, family members post about missing loved ones.

Forget Me Not has grown into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. For his work, Johns was named to the Alaska Journal of Commerce 2016 list of Top Forty Under 40.

He told Saturday’s luncheon audience about his own difficult time with alcohol as a teenager and young man. “I got knocked down because I didn’t know how to grieve” the loss of loved ones, Johns said. At 21, “I woke up one day and knew I had to sober up.”

There were setbacks along the way, but the support of his now-wife, and re-discovered passion for music, traditional and rap, and basketball – helped steady his life and fill the void.

“I learned to grieve in a healthy way,” Johns says.

He also volunteered in a soup kitchen, serving meals and eventually performing traditional Alaskan drumming for clients. “That drumming, using the culture, transformed the soup kitchen,” Johns said. “People became alive.”

The work also helped Johns find his purpose, he said, but quickly added, “there’s nothing special about me. I’m just passionate and curious.”


Go to top