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Sheila Johnson is an African-American entrepreneur who co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) and is part-owner of the three sports teams in the NHL, NBA and the WNBA.
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Sheila Johnson was born on January 25, 1949, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. She co-founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1979. The successful station focused on African American audiences and was sold to Viacom for $3 billion in 2002. Johnson is currently part-owner of sports teams including the Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Mystics (WNBA) and is the second wealthiest black female in the United States.
Entrepreneur Sheila Crump Johnson was born on January 25, 1949, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Her father, a neurosurgeon who worked for the Veterans Administration, and her mother, an accountant, were both accomplished pianists. Johnson inherited her parents' musical talents, beginning to play the violin seriously at the age of nine. Johnson also displayed flashes of her future entrepreneurial spirit as a child. She crafted purses out of oatmeal boxes and potholders, going door-to-door to sell them to her neighbors.
Due to her father's job with the Veterans Administration, Johnson's family was often on the move, relocating 12 times during her childhood before finally settling down for good in Maywood, Illinois, just outside of Chicago.
An accomplished young musician, in high school Johnson served as the concertmaster of the Illinois All-State Choir, and upon graduating in 1967 she received a full scholarship to study music at the University of Illinois. Her assigned mentor during orientation week was an upperclassman named Robert Johnson, and the pair quickly fell in love. Two years later, in 1969, they married. Sheila Johnson sewed her own wedding dress from an "idiot-proof" McCall's pattern and the ceremony cost a grand total of $50.
In 1971, two years after her marriage, Johnson graduated from Illinois with a bachelor's degree in music performance and education. After her graduation, Johnson moved to Washington, D.C. There she landed a job teaching violin at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School, while her husband took a job with the Public Broadcasting Corporation. To supplement her meager teacher's salary, Sheila Johnson also began teaching private violin lessons out of her home.
The lessons grew into a successful enterprise, and when Johnson had enrolled 100 students she quit her job at Sidwell Friends to devote all her attention to private teaching. She took her students on several tours around the world, including a stop in Jordan where they performed for the King and Queen. And it was by running her own music instruction business that Johnson developed into a shrewd businesswoman. "I learned tax law, how to deduct for the space, even for toilet paper," she later recalled. "I always kept good records."
While Johnson concentrated on her music business, her husband managed to secure a $500,000 investment from cable TV mogul John Malone, allowing Robert and Sheila Johnson to co-found their own cable TV network, Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1979. A decade later, in 1989, Sheila Johnson abandoned her music business to join BET full time as head of community relations.
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With innovative ideas and charismatic personalities, many African-Americans have made lasting contributions to the country, while also earning millions. Oprah Winfrey emerged as a world-famous one-woman brand with her show, eventually becoming the world's first black billionaire. Robert L. Johnson started BET, the cable channel geared towards African-Americans. Athlete Michael Jordan turned into a household name through numerous endorsement deals. These people were among the first African-Americans to overcome the obstacles of discrimination and achieve top honors in their fields. With talent and determination, each one reinvented not only what it meant to be an African-American, but also what it meant to be an American.
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