Homeless as a child, Philly attorney shares story of perserverance with Germantown youths

 Raised in extreme poverty, attorney Nikki Johnson-Huston hopes to affect policy change. (Amanda Staller/for NewsWorks)

Raised in extreme poverty, attorney Nikki Johnson-Huston hopes to affect policy change. (Amanda Staller/for NewsWorks)

Before Nikki Johnson-Huston became an award-winning tax attorney and advocate, she toiled through a rough upbringing in Detroit.

“I remember when I was eight years old,” she recounted, “I had to choose between food and Christmas presents.”

Johnson-Huston was in Germantown on Monday night to share an inspiring story of perseverance and strength with a group of LOGAN Hope School students at Tabor Children’s Services.

The talk was hosted by The One Less Foundation, a local nonprofit which aims to help the needy find a way out of poverty, much like Johnson-Huston was able to do.

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A personal connection

Johnson-Huston’s family quickly went from working poor to deep poverty after her grandmother was injured in a car accident and unable to work.

Their shelter situation devolved from hotels to motels, sleeping on floors and, eventually, homelessness. She said she knew not from where her next meal was coming, or whether she’d have a roof over her head for the night.

Johnson-Huston told the students that, despite those troubles, she never lost sight of a positive outcome.

“My hope for what my future would be always stayed with me, no matter the circumstances,” said Johnson-Huston.

She leaned on bright spots like her love for knowledge. While homeless, Johnson-Huston’s mother would take her to the library during the day. Mom was thinking about providing warmth and safety, but it offered so much more.

“It was an escape for me from the life we were living,” said Johnson-Huston.

Emerging from tough times

Johnson-Huston cited her grandmother, with whom she lived off and on for many years, as an inspiration and driving force behind her success. At a young age, her grandmother asked her was she was going to do with the opportunities life handed her.

“I told her I want to be a lawyer and I want to have a lot of shoes,” said Johnson-Huston.

After completing high school, Johnson-Huston received a scholarship to Saint Joseph’s University but failed out after her first year.

“Sometimes, you’re going to make mistakes,” she said. “Sometimes, things aren’t going to go right for you, but that doesn’t mean it’s the end of your story.”

It certainly wasn’t the end of hers.

Johnson-Huston became a nanny for a family of lawyers and took night classes at Saint Joe’s. She then went on to graduate from the Temple University Beasley School of Law and earn a JD/MBA/LL.M in taxation in just four years.

“It’s not where you start,” said Johnson-Huston. “It’s where you finish.”

Paying it forward

Johnson-Huston said she now hopes to give back to youth, such as those at the LOGAN Hope School, by affecting policy regarding childhood poverty.

The LOGAN Hope School, located at 4934 N. 13th St., is a private, Catholic K-8 where more than 90 percent of students’ families live below the poverty line.

“If you want to see positive outcomes, there has to be resources,” said Johnson-Huston.

There is one piece of advice she said she believes all young people should carry with them:

“The secret of life that I’ve found is that I am good enough to say to the world that I have value.”

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