Robert L. Johnson, born on April 8, 1946, is an American entrepreneur, businessman, and philanthropist. He is best known as the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first television network dedicated to African American audiences. Johnson grew up in a working-class family in Illinois. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Illinois and went on to obtain a master’s degree in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University. He later earned a law degree from Harvard Law School.
In 1979, Johnson, along with his then-wife Sheila Johnson and a group of investors, co-founded BET. The network started as a single channel broadcasting music videos and quickly grew into a prominent media platform, providing programming that catered to African American viewers. Under Johnson’s leadership, BET expanded its reach and became a significant force in the entertainment industry.
Johnson served as the chairman and CEO of BET until 2005 when he sold the network to Viacom for a reported $3 billion. This historic sale made him the first African American billionaire. Following the sale, Johnson remained involved in various business ventures and investments. Apart from his work in media and business, Robert L. Johnson has been actively involved in philanthropy. He established the Robert L. Johnson Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships to students from minority communities, and he has supported various educational initiatives and organizations focused on youth development.
Johnson’s contributions to the business and entertainment industries, as well as his philanthropic efforts, have earned him numerous accolades. He has received awards such as the NAACP Image Award, the Trumpet Foundation’s Corporate Citizen Award, and the National Urban League’s Frederick Douglass Medallion for Entrepreneurship.
In recent years, Johnson has continued to be involved in various business ventures, including the launch of RLJ Companies, a diverse portfolio of businesses encompassing real estate, hospitality, gaming, and more. He remains an influential figure in the business world and continues to advocate for diversity, equality, and economic empowerment.