Ethan Johnston: A Blind Man's Journey from Ethiopia to the U.S.

As a young boy, Ethan Johnston was kidnapped from his family in Ethiopia, blinded and used as a beggar. Fortunately, at age 10 he was adopted by a family in the United States. He faced numerous emotional, physical and cultural barriers, including slowly learning not only English but English Braille. He found sports, including baseball, which became an outlet and passion. Despite the hardships he faced in his younger years, he is thriving in America.
Always determined, he finished college, found employment, and lives by the motto, “Wanting it won’t get it for you, you have to go get it!” Ethan (Esubalew) Johnston applied and was chosen for a Reach scholarship in 2017 to come to a No Barriers Summit in Squaw Valley. Over the four days he became well-known to everyone for his huge smile and his enthusiasm. He is a vibrant, funny, outgoing individual. The struggles Ethan has faced seem unbelievable juxtaposed to such a thriving person, but hearing Ethan’s story of resilience it becomes clear that he has worked very hard to get where he is today. Ethan met with our hosts one evening after work, when he arrived solo after a 40-minute bus trip and Uber ride. It is hard to believe that not that long ago Ethan did not know how to make his own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Over the next hour Ethan talked about being coerced into a life of begging on the streets in Ethiopia, by captors who blinded him and took every penny he earned. “After begging for over 2 years I thought that would be my entire life. I would beg and then when my time called I would die begging.” Hungry and alone, Ethan was discovered by a traveling couple who ultimately got him out and flew him to America where he was placed with a family in Missouri. But it wasn’t a simple transition. “The first five years, I cried like the rainy season in Ethiopia.” Being blind and having never been outside of Ethiopia, Ethan discusses some of the trials and culture shocks he experienced; from learning English, to different American social customs and even discovering the concept of race. He discusses how he ended up in Colorado and learned how to be more independent through his experiences at the Colorado Center for the Blind. “Blind people everywhere. Where have you guys been all my life??” But ultimately, Ethan’s story is not one of tragedy, it’s one of resilience and determination. His mindset has largely shaped how Ethan has reacted to the events in his life. Now, he is active in the Ethiopian community in Colorado, plays on a blind baseball team, is passionate about food, music, sports and has high hopes for his future. Listen to hear Ethan tell his incredibly story. “I agree it’s bad, I wish I wasn’t blind, but at the same time everything happens for a reason….I got an education, and ended up in the best country, America, full of opportunities” Learn more about No Barriers

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