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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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She also developed and produced her own show, Teen Summit, an acclaimed talk show where African-American youth discussed the pressing issues of the day.
However, as BET devoted more of its airtime to music videos, and as the videos grew increasingly sexually explicit, Johnson grew disenchanted with the direction of the network. She said,
"I do worry about young kids at such an early age watching videos day in and day out where young women are ... being depicted in demeaning ways. Women and young girls think they should act like that in order to attract a man and behave that way in order to get through life." Johnson frequently expressed her grievances to her husband and received the unvarying response: "It's not about education, it's about entertainment."
Professional differences became personal differences, and Sheila and Robert Johnson divorced in 2002, splitting after 33 years of marriage. They have a daughter, Paige Johnson, a world class equestrian with Olympic ambitions, as well as a son, Brett Johnson. Two years before their divorce, in 2000, Robert Johnson sold BET to Viacom for $3 billion; both Johnsons now rank among the wealthiest African-Americans in the country.
Since her divorce, Sheila Johnson has developed into an extraordinarily successful entrepreneur in her own right. In 2005, she founded Salamander Hospitality, a hospitality and management company through which she owns and manages two resorts and an inn, among other properties. She is also the Vice Chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment; as the majority owner of the Washington Mystics WNBA franchise and a minority owner of the NBA's Washington Wizards and NHL's Washington Capitals, she is the first black woman with a stake in three professional sports teams. She is also a documentary film producer of acclaimed pictures such as A Powerful Noise (2008) and The Other City (2010), a film about the AIDS epidemic in Washington, D.C.
In 2005, Johnson married for a second time to the Honorable William T. Newman, Jr.—the judge who presided over her divorce proceedings three years before. Johnson and Newman did not meet at the divorce proceedings; they had actually acted in a play together many years before. After her divorce hearing finished, Johnson recalls, "I asked if I could approach the bench." She then walked up to Newman and asked, "Do you remember me?"
With an estimated net worth of $400 million, she ranks second only to Oprah Winfrey among the wealthiest black females in the United States and seventh among all African-Americans. President Barack Obama recently appointed her to the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and she also sits on the board of numerous foundations and universities. Asked what business model has allowed her to achieve such incredible success, Johnson revealed that her business model is not to follow any model: "When I instinctively feel it is the right move to make, I do it," she explained, adding, "And I don't do it in a stupid way, I do it where I can see really the upside."
© 2014 A+E Networks. All rights reserved.
© 2014 A+E Networks. All rights reserved.
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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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