Social justice grounded in faith. As senior pastor of Higher Hope Christian Church and an activist in the wider community, Rev. Dr. Joy Johnson has dedicated her life to seeing prayer put into action.

She is founder and president of Dr. Joy Johnson Ministries and Life Matters, Inc. and also directs trauma healing and restoration programs for families and survivors of neighborhood violence and tragedy.

“That is the work I do now, much more than say your ‘traditional church work’ and though I consider this emerging church, we have to change our methods because of a changing society, and changing demand,” Dr. Johnson shared.

She hosts weekly healing circles in North Highlands and Del Paso Heights, where she does so in collaboration with the Neighborhood Wellness Foundation.

“It is very much like the church meetings of a very long time ago in that these are people who have experienced extreme trauma in their lives, primarily around violence —children who have been lost to violence, gun violence from gang activity, gun violence from police shootings,” Dr. Johnson said.

“Our people, we don’t have the resources often to get preventative care or just intervene on our own behalf, so we’re losing lives. We’re also losing our ability to mobilize around the community, to just do what normal people do — get up, go to work, whatever. There are significant constraints that are bringing us down and some of those traumas are long-standing and are a result of a childhood trauma,” she continued.

Many of the participants shy away from “traditional church” and through the sessions, Dr. Johnson has created spaces where women feel free to open up.

“Their stories are treated like sacred testimonies and from that experience of sharing stories, healing occurs,” she said.

Many of the participants have lost children to a local gang war that has turned former friends into mortal enemies. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Joy Johnson would lead her group of women to the sight of area shootings.

“These are mothers who when they get enough courage up, we’ll go with 30 women from the circle, we’ll go with them to the parks to try to pray and reclaim the territory in a peaceful way,” she said.

The shootings that were happening in broad daylight haven’t stopped altogether, but they’re less frequent, Dr. Johnson said.

“There are some adults, men at least, who are part of these gangs that do the shooting and encourage the shootings, and if we can get their voices on our side, I think it would be totally eliminated.

“Just like any preacher, just like any pastor, I have to keep stirring in their hearts the belief that if we keep on doing this, if we keep holding on to our faith, if we keep trusting God and we don’t waiver, it’s going to turn our neighborhoods around,” she said.

As immediate past president of Sacramento Area Congregations Together, Dr. Johnson sought to turn things around throughout the region.

“The central core of our work together is a work toward justice,” she said of the 60-plus faith-based organizations that make up Sacramento ACT.

In the wake of the shooting death of Stephon Clark in 2018 and the killing of George Floyd last year, Sacramento ACT members spoke out and took to the streets. Some were arrested while protesting the continued treatment of unarmed Black men.

“We stand on the belief that all life is so very important,” Dr. Johnson said. “Anything that is life-giving is godly. Anything that is taking life, that would not be godly, so that is why we take to the streets. When we take to the streets, we’re taking to the streets to fight evil,” she said.

In the wake of Floyd’s death, Dr. Johnson spoke during a women’s event in Cesar Chavez Park and in September, she led a mass march to the State Capitol to “lament” the lives lost during the pandemic.

“The people who were dying from this pandemic were all Black and poor and nobody was taking notice of it,” she said.

“If I had my way we’d probably have two to three days where ain’t nobody doing nothing in these here United States but praying and weeping over all the tragedies that have been man-made, that have been caused at our own very hands.”

By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

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