On CNN, Maywood Native Sheila Johnson Gets Real About Being Black and Part of the One Percent


Sheila Johnson walks with CNN reporter Tanzina Vega during a segment called “I’m black and I’m a member of the 1%.” | Screenshot

Johnson.jpegFriday, October 14, 2016 || By Michael Romain || @maywoodnews || UPDATED: 10/15/16

Proviso East graduate and former Maywoodian Sheila Johnson was recently the subject of a short segment on CNN Money (“I”m black and I’m a member of the 1%“), which explores the lives of blacks who are among the less than two percent of Americans who comprise the wealthiest one percent of the nation’s population.

The minimum household net worth of that elite company is nearly $8 million, according to the St. Louis Federal Reserve.

The seven-minute segment might be Exhibit A for anyone who argues that race dissolves at those high-earning, Oprah-esque altitudes. It doesn’t, says Johnson. 

Johnson co-founded the BET television network with her ex-husband Bob Johnson and, according to one estimate, is worth around $400 billion — second only to Oprah among the country’s wealthiest black women.

Her wealth and notoriety, however, didn’t shield her from the treatment she says she received in her life after BET. More than a decade ago, she founded Salamander Hospitality, which comprises a range of exclusive properties, including two resorts and a luxury inn. 

“You are one of the few black women to own a property like this,” CNN’s national race and inequality reporter Tanzina Vega tells Johnson as they walk the grounds of one of her many assets.

“It took me 10 years to get approvals,” Johnson responds. “As an African American, they did not want me to do this.”

It’s a rare moment of vulnerability (Johnson, walking through the property she controls, whispered that last phrase to the anchor).

“If you are a person of color, you can have as much money as you want,” Johnson says later. “You’re still who you are and that was the lesson I really learned.”

Johnson’s interview starts at around the 4:20 mark, but the entire segment is worth watching, especially the moment she talks about her parents.

“I had two wonderful parents,” Johnson recalls. “They really strived for excellence. Now, my father was a neurosurgeon and at the time there were only 11 in the country. He could not practice at white hospitals. He was turned down time after time. They would not say it was a race issue, but we knew.”

Watch the full CNN segment hereVFP

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