From Trouble To Triumph: Star Shares Lessons Learned

He’s an actor, model, singer, author


By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record

Damien Johnson knew something had to give.

A decade passed since his high school graduation and Johnson looked back on 10 years of partying and crime with a desire to want something more out of life.

“I went to college, but that really wasn’t for me,” Johnson, a 2001 Triton High School graduate, said. “At that point in time, at 17, I was selfish. I was all about being young and having fun, living for the moment type of stuff.”

As his run-ins with the law started to mount and youth began fading into adulthood, Johnson faced a moment of reflection — a time to either continue the current path or right the ship into calmer waters.

“When I went to school I started getting in trouble a lot,” said the 37-year-old Johnson. “I was hanging out with the wrong people and I went to jail and everything. I didn’t do any crazy time but there was probation, money, probation violations, I was going through some stuff. I saw where I was heading and I didn’t see any purpose.”

Faced with fatherhood at just 16, Johnson also had a daughter to think about. With his life resembling a see-saw, Johnson set out to forge a new path, one that once seemed out of reach for the boy who grew up in Erwin.

“I always had a dream, growing up watching Nickelodeon, ‘Family Matters,’ ‘Full House,’ I saw kids on there and thought I could do the same thing,” Johnson said. “I was a quiet, reserved child at first and I didn’t say anything because I was from Erwin. I wasn’t going to jump up there and say I wanted to be a star. I was from a small town.”

Johnson started small, getting into modeling at first before “dibbing and dabbling” in music. He moved around for a little while until the time came to take his career pursuit up a notch.

“I made a choice to dive into it,” said Johnson. “This was something that I knew I could really work towards and do. It became my therapy. Around 2008, I was doing music and modeling, but it wasn’t that spark like I had with acting.”

In 2011, Johnson headed to Atlanta and became an extra in a movie for the first time. A year later, Johnson landed his first film roll and the career he always felt destined for began to take shape. The more industry people he met, the more sure Johnson felt that he could live his dream.

“People kept telling me I needed to take it a little more seriously,” Johnson said. “I’m new, I’m green, and these people have been in movies; they’ve been around.”

Johnson’s career took off in the ensuing years. By the time Johnson signed with a talent agency in 2016, he had appeared in nearly a dozen movies and web series and served as a key face in a national commercial campaign. His success attracted attention in the industry and before long Johnson found himself sharing his story with others as a motivational speaker.

“It was really coming out of nowhere,” said Johnson. “I started doing stuff and people were looking at me. I was using that to start speaking to kids.”

With his acting career flourishing, Johnson set out to tackle another lifelong goal: writing a book. Johnson shared his experiences in “What’s More Powerful than You,” a self-help motivational book he penned as a way to inspire young people to chase their dreams despite life’s many obstacles.

Damien Johnson

“I wanted to write a book, but I didn’t know what kind of book it would be,” Johnson said. “I talk about things I did to change my mindset. I want people to understand that I came from a small town in Erwin, I had a baby at a young age and I was in and out of all that trouble and dealing with depression I didn’t know anything about. You can switch and be whatever you want to be. I want to always give back.”

Johnson welcomed another daughter into his life along the way and now both his children attend school in Harnett County. Family remained an important part of Johnson’s journey and the love for them played a key role in his transformation.

“If nobody in the world knows where I came from, they do,” said Johnson. “They’ve been with me every step of the way. That was one of the reasons I changed: I didn’t want my actions and being selfish, reflecting on them. Those are lessons you learn in life and you live and go through.”

Life forced Johnson to grow up sooner than he wanted to. While it didn’t happen overnight, Johnson managed to chase down his dream and live the life he always wanted. He hopes his book inspires others to do the same.