In less than two days, more than 400 people have donated more than $26,000 to Rick Johnson, the man who brightened their days outside the courthouse every day for ten years and is now battling cancer.
Over the past decade, Rick has sold M&Ms and umbrellas to lawyers and judges and cops and people headed to court to pay their dues, becoming a fixture on the courthouse steps. Sometimes he gave out the candy and umbrellas for free, just to cheer up customers or keep the rain from dampening them. He gave hugs regularly, telling everyone who passed him, "I love you!" and "Don't worry, be happy"— whether he knew them or not.
Turns out, they did not forget his kindness.
As news spread about Rick's condition earlier this week, thousands of people shared Rick's story and their memories of him across the Internet. They remembered how he walked them to the bus stop during a rainstorm when they didn't have cash to purchase an umbrella. They remembered how, while they were on the way to the courthouse, he "picked up my hand and skipped beside me, making me laugh during a difficult time." And they remembered all the times he lifted their spirits after a rough day in court, no matter where they stood before a judge or what they were fighting for.
As one bishop told us in an email, "Even as a pastor, I've seldom seen real love for other people ('my neighbor') like I've seen through Rick Johnson."
The radio station 95.7 FM is now collecting get-well cards for Rick and so is Fox26Houston. His GoFundMe page — set up by defense attorney Monique Sparks, with all proceeds going toward his in-home medical care — is littered with love from everyone from prosecutors to the "AT&T crew from Main & McKinney," where he often sold M&Ms after the rush died down at the courthouse.
One donation was from Cheryl Jones, who had gone to the courthouse once or twice a month for more than a year. After a neighbor attacked her husband during an argument, she said, her husband shot the man in self-defense and was charged with murder. (Prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges.) He faced 45 years in prison, and Jones found herself grappling with the fact that she would soon lose her husband for decades. Then she encountered Rick Johnson and his M&Ms.
"Sometimes you don't know what's gonna help you, until you meet someone like Mr. Johnson," she told the Houston Press. "He was just so lively. You would hear him say, 'Good morning, good morning! How is everyone doing!' It's like, if I didn't hear that, I don't know if I could have continued to go back and forth to court. Mr. Johnson helped me in a way that no one else could. It wasn't about the M&Ms at all. It was about him just being there."
We visited with Rick on Thursday evening and he was in good spirits, telling stories about the time attorneys helped him get out of a ticket for selling items without a permit and joking with a longtime friend that she still owed him a few bucks for that umbrella. He is still working, giving out M&M's to all his visitors. He says "thank you" to all those who are supporting him.