A Celebration of Life: Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, 12:00-2:00 p.m., at Calvary Baptist Church, 5655 Mission St., San Francisco, California
To understand the gravity of what happened to Sam, read these stories: “Here we go again! A mother reports her child developed a brain tumor from exposure to toxins on Treasure Island,” “God bless you for helping Sam!“ and “Help the family of 10-year-old Sammy Johnson, who died in his mother’s arms of a brain tumor.”
by Nia and Eric Johnson, Sam’s parents
Samuel-Ace Ieremia Johnson departed on his journey at the very young age of 10, on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, in his own bed with both his parents, Nia and Eric, by his side.
Nia and Eric were blessed with Sam and he was dubbed our “miracle baby.” While still in his Mom’s womb and without him even knowing it, Sam was already helping his mom out with her illness at the time. After he was born, Sam’s umbilical cord blood was collected and stored (for 10 years), with its primary purpose to regenerate red and/or white blood cells for his Mom, should the need arise again. Unbeknownst to us, 10 years would also be the same amount of time given to spend with our superstar on this Earth. The details of Sam’s Miracle are without a doubt an amazing lifetime story.
Sam was diagnosed a few weeks after his 10th birthday with DIPG a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma. “These are rare tumors found in the brain stem. They usually cannot be surgically removed because of their remote location, where they intertwine with normal brain tissue and affect the delicate and complex functions this area controls. These tumors occur most often in school-age children, where they are responsible for the greatest number of childhood deaths from primary brain tumors.”
Needless to say, this news was devastating, heartbreaking, and we felt so helpless and even hopeless. But, even during his final months, Sam was a true trooper – he never gave up hope and always maintained a positive outlook even on his “bad” days.
We watched our Miracle Baby blossom quickly at a very young age. As parents, we look forward to all our childrens’ “first” moments – first smile, first sneeze, first words, first holidays.
Well, Sam’s first Halloween was soon approaching, and his first costume would be … none other than Michael Jackson!
These studio photos led to Sam’s first (of many) professional photo shoots and first employment opportunity! At the tender age of 2.5 years, Sam had himself an agent, he was a model actor, and ultimately, had his first paying job. We had no idea where things were headed, but as we watched Sam continue to grow and adapt to his new work environment, it was obvious that he enjoyed it all.
Maybe to Sam, it was just another play day, having fun being a kid, even if it was in front of flashing lights and cameras! All he needed to hear was “ACTION!” and Sam would always end by saying, “It’s a wrap!”
Sam’s professional career included spots with Pottery Barn, Discovery toys, Xfinity Cable, Target (Sam’s FAVORITE store), S.F. Giants, Alameda Health, Grove Collaborative, KQED, Xerox, The Trust for Public Land, to name a few, not to mention his first runway show for Zulilly Kids, and ultimately his first short film, “1, 2, 3 All Eyes On Me!” This short film was featured in film festivals, even winning an award and would later get picked up by HBO. A star in the making!
Although Sam has departed on his journey back to our Heavenly Father, we will nevertheless miss him so very dearly. He was indeed a very special blessing and we are honored and grateful to have had the time we did. Sam’s generous nature, acts of kindness, good deeds, thoughtfulness, helpfulness and spirit will forever emanate through time.
Some of Sam’s favorite quotes and Bible verses
A good Ruler is to be Just and to do right by people and to Fear God. (Heritage Studies)
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou (This truth was instilled in Sam at a very early age, and he exemplified it through his acts of love and kindness even through the end of his days.)
Bible verses: Joshua 29, Psalm 118.24, Proverbs 3:5, Isaiah 41:1- John 5.3, Ephesians 4:32
I am so sorry for our loss
Sam’s agent and teachers share their love and memories of Sam:
From Sue, Sam’s Agent and Manager: Dearest Nia and Eric, I am so sorry for our loss. I apologize for not responding back sooner because I’ve been having such a really difficult time accepting that he’s no longer here with us. You both know it’s been really hard for me since learning about his illness back in February. Due to the pandemic and Sam’s situation, I had decided to retire from the entertainment business after 27 years. You know Sam is one in a million! I tell him that all the time! He’s touched so many people with his contagious smile, humor, politeness and how super advanced he was for his age. You do know Sam was my baby, too, that I watched and groomed since a toddler. He will forever be missed and will always have a special place in my heart!
From Nancy Riddle, Teacher: Shortly before Sam and his mom left for his treatments in Los Angeles, I gave a craft for him to make. The craft was in the shape of a star, for it reminded me of Sam and the verse Daniel 12:3 “And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
Sam was a shiny light in his love for his Savior, pointing many to God in his words and testimony. His love for the Lord was very genuine and clear as he spoke of the Lord often and demonstrated JOY in Jesus, others and yourself. Even at a young age in my first grade class, Sam had a God given gift of ministering to others.
One example that come to my mind was that Sam wanted to do his part in helping raise funds for a Christian orphanage. Each month, Sam and his mother would donate an enormous bag filled with aluminum cans and plastic bottles for me to recycle. This gift of thinking of others beyond himself carried throughout his life as he was a constant giver. Even when Sam was ill and I would visit, he spoiled me with gifts such as a box of See’s Chocolates and items he bought from Disneyland. Truly, he had the gift of edification and was a blessing to all who knew him.
Sam also was a gentle soul. I have never seen him angry or with a bad attitude. He had a sweet, well mannered disposition. There were times he would have to stay in my classroom from park recess at the request of his mother but he was always in good spirits, never griping or complaining about circumstances. That wasn’t part of his nature.
At this time, I can just hear Sam comforting us and telling us not to sorrow. He is dancing on the Streets of Gold and in a perfect body wishing we could see him now. We will see you again Sam in Heaven some day where there are no Goodbyes. But until then, thank you from all of us for touching our lives with yours.
From Becky Wilson, Teacher: I have known Sam since he was in Kindergarten. I knew that he was a polite and well-liked student and that his teachers adored him, but I didn’t personally know the extent of how amazing he was. Then I had the privilege and honor of being Sam’s fourth grade teacher.
The 2020-2021 school year was very challenging for many reasons because of the pandemic. However, during distance learning last year, my spirits were daily lifted by Sam’s cheerful greeting as he entered our zoom classroom. “Good morning, Mrs. Wilson!” And then, at the end of class, I would hear a chorus of goodbyes from my students all signing out of zoom, but Sam would remain behind long enough to say, “Thank you for teaching me, Mrs. Wilson!”
On numerous occasions, when I would think about how hard distance learning was for my students and me, I would then think of Sam’s daily encouragement and just KNOW that God had sent him to my class to show God’s goodness to me and his fellow classmates even in difficult times.
Every one of his classmates has a story about how Sam made them feel loved and special. Sam just had a way of lighting up a space with this generous kindness, positivity and friendship.
Sam shared with me a love of “Star Wars,” and I know for certain that the “force” was with him. Except, we know that the force was really the Grace and Goodness of Jesus being expressed in his life. I am so thankful that because of our shared hope in Christ, I know I will get to see Sam again one day. And I won’t even be surprised at all when that day comes if I get to hear a cheerful, “Good morning, Mrs. Wilson!”
From Mrs. Elza Cuyugan, Teacher: It didn’t take long to get to know Sam. The moment I first visited him at his home a few months ago with his two former teachers, Mrs. Riddle and Mrs. Dimaano, it felt like I had known him all his life. He was friendly, respectful and thoughtful. I could tell that he was tired and not very comfortable with his position on the bed. Yet, he was very engaged in our conversation. He smiled a lot and displayed a contagious laughter. I was shocked to find out that he asked his mom that morning to buy boxes of chocolates for us to show his appreciation for our visit. I was so humbled by their kindness.
Sam was selfless. They went to Disneyland, but instead of spending his time to relax there, he thought of us and bought gifts for us. In my second home visit, he excitedly welcomed me and Mrs. Riddle and surprised us with souvenirs from his trip. Even with what he was going through, he and his family were constantly thinking of others.
He was full of life. When UCLA contacted them to see if he can qualify for a treatment program, he thought of his classmates right away. He had been friends with many of them since they were 4 years old, and he wanted to see them before he headed out to Southern California. Together with his mom and aunt, Sam met my class in the school parking lot. He brought snacks for Mrs. Riddle’s class, Mrs. Wilson’s class, and my class. He also came with a bubble wand and did his best to play with his classmates while he stayed inside their car. He talked to the kids and created great memories with them.
Sam will forever serve as an inspiration. He encouraged and gave without expecting anything in return. I wish our class could still do the things that we had been planning for Sam. The class was planning on recording the two Reader’s Theater performances for Sam. I was also going to record the class playing their musical instruments so Sam can enjoy listening to them. Our class even talked about possibly visiting him at home.
My goal was to be able to connect Sam and his classmates more in different ways. We were looking forward to welcoming him back to our classroom, but we must now accept that fact that God has a better plan for him. We miss him already, but we know that we will see him again. His war against his brain tumor was already won. No more pain. Sam fully trusted Jesus Christ with his life, and he will now be with our Savior for eternity.
From Brent Elberg, Piano Teacher: I first met Sam and his family a few years ago. I’ll never forget how excited he was to get his first piano lesson. As I approached the door to meet his family, I fondly remember him jumping up and down saying, “Brent’s here, Brent’s here!” Sam immediately developed a love for the piano and was always eager to learn new skills. When he played something correctly, a huge smile lit up on his face, and he couldn’t wait to show his family what he’d learned.
Every time the lesson was over, he’d walk outside with me as I was leaving and wave goodbye as I drove home. Sam was an incredibly unique and talented kid, and I always looked forward to working with him. I feel incredibly lucky to have known Sam and his family, and I know that everyone who knew Sam was instantly taken with his kindness, brilliance and overall love for life. Thank you for all you gave to this world, and you will always hold a special place in my heart.
From Florence Fong, Piano Teacher: Samuel was very musical and loved to explore music making opportunities for the Lord. For a few short months until he became ill, I had the pleasure and privilege of teaching him piano. He learned new concepts very quickly and eagerly practiced them. We had an opportunity to play a Zoom Christmas recital for a Senior Recreation Center. We did not have much time to practice, but we wanted to try a few duets. Although Sam was nervous, he bravely rose to the challenge. He gave a beautiful performance with a sweet smile and spirit.
For a few weeks, Sam zoomed with my Children’s Choir. His love for music and joy in the Lord was evident as he readily participated in naming notes and singing solo demonstrations for the class. Since April 2021, he also zoomed in for Sunday School. Despite his difficulty with his speech, he still participated and answered questions as he was able, even if he had to keep his video off.
Sam has been a great example of allowing the love and joy of Jesus to shine through him, despite the physical challenges within him. He always greeted us with a smile and expressed deep love and gratitude for everything, whether from receiving gifts and goodies to a simple “hello.” Sam’s example continues to remind me to keep pressing on for the Lord with a smile, no matter the trial. He had a desire to know his Savior and he rested in Him with great courage.
From Mr. Boysan, Science Teacher: Sam Johnson was one of the sweetest, most respectful and most empathetic students I have ever had. I can’t believe he’s gone. All who knew Sam were blessed by his encouragement, his politeness and his beautiful smile. In the dark and early days of the pandemic, Sam’s spirit of love and empathy encouraged me daily. The light of Christ shined so brightly through him and to others. Sam once commented on a science activity: “It’s amazing how God, the Creator of all things, gave us science to learn.”
Sam was always mindful of the reality of God – in him and all around him. He loved going to the park and playing with his friends, even though it was often painful for him. I once asked the third graders to make sidewalk art with their favorite Bible verse, to encourage their neighbors. Sam’s verse was Isaiah 41:10. “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I know this verse is true and now Sam knows it better than any of us. I love you, buddy.
From Mrs. Dimaano, Second Grade Teacher, San Francisco Christian School: Sam was my second grade student. He was a role model in our class with his good behavior. He was very polite and every time he entered the classroom I can see the delight in his face saying, “Good Morning, Mrs. Dimaano.” He is generous and thoughtful. I remember that when he was in my class, he used to bring extra snacks for those who didn’t have any.
He was an enthusiastic learner and showed a positive outlook in the classroom. He always made sure he turned in his homework and never complained. He loved to participate in class discussions and wanted to share his experiences about this training on making voiceovers and filming commercials when he was acting. I used to joke with him, “You’re making more money than a teacher, Sam.”
He brought love, joy and laughter into the classroom. He was full of love and most of all, he loves God.
Here was the 10-year-old boy with strength and courage who never complained or let the battles he faced slow down or weaken his spirit. But instead they gave him strength to fight until his last breath.
To send your condolences to Nia and Eric Johnson, email the writer who has covered this story, Carol Harvey, at firstname.lastname@example.org. All of us at the Bay View send our love to Sam’s family and the multitudes who knew and loved him.