Sheila Johnson and her then-husband Robert Johnson made history in 1979 when they ?launched Black Entertainment Television ? the first cable TV franchise targeting African Americans ? building it into what Forbes then called ?the premiere medium for reaching the U.S.? 35 million African-American consumers.? In 2001 the Johnsons sold BET to Viacom in an all-stock deal for $2.9 billion including debt. The couple got divorced the following year.
Sheila Johnson, 66, a former BET board member, vice president and host of the network?s talk show Teen Summit for 11 years, now criticizes what BET has become. ?I really believe that African Americans have lost their voice. That?s why you?re seeing what you?re seeing in the general mainstream media. There?s not that area where we can come together and really talk about a Ferguson [Missouri] or talk about what?s going on in the police community and all the racial turmoil. BET was supposed to be that voice. And we don?t have it,? she says during an interview at the sprawling 340-acre Salamander Resort and Spa in Northern Virginia she owns.
Johnson says it was her disappointment in BET?s current programming that led her to sell all of her Viacom shares. Cash from the share sales makes up a large portion of her estimated $700 million net worth. She?s used some of the money to fund such?ventures?as a hotel management firm, stakes in three D.C.-based professional sports teams (the NBA Wizards, the NHL Capitals and the WNBA Mystics) and a private jet charter service.
Johnson ? ranked No. 22 on Forbes new list of America?s?Richest Self-Made Women ? is also using her money and influence?to give rise to the voice that?s missing, funding critically acclaimed documentaries and films featuring African American voices. She?was the first investor in Lee Daniel?s The Butler, the critically acclaimed 2013 movie that followed a former slave?s rise to working in the White House. After reading The Butler script three times, Johnson put $2 million into the production, and then said she wanted to lead the rest of the fundraising, soliciting prominent African American philanthropists and celebrities.
Read more at Forbes.