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Robert L. Johnson
*Robert Johnson was born on this date in 1946. He is a Black entrepreneur, media magnate, executive, philanthropist, and investor.
Robert Louis Johnson was born in Hickory, Mississippi, the ninth out of ten children to Edna and Archie Johnson. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father a farmer. His parents moved the family to Freeport, Illinois when he was a child.
He was an honors student in high school. Johnson graduated from the University of Illinois in 1968 with a bachelor's degree in social studies and was a member of the Beta chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. He married Sheila Johnson in 1969, they divorced in 2001 and have two children. He received a master's degree in public affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1972. After graduating from Princeton, Johnson found a job in Washington, D.C., that introduced him to the television industry. He served as the public affairs director for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting where he learned of the power and untapped potential of television.
Around the same time, he also worked as the director of communications for the Washington, D.C. office of the National Urban League. Johnson worked as a press secretary for Congressman Walter E. Fauntroy. He later became vice president of government relations at the National Cable and Television Association. In 1980, Johnson launched Black Entertainment Television, which became a full-fledged channel in 1983. Johnson left NCTA in 1979 to create Black Entertainment Television, the first cable television network aimed at African Americans. When the network launched in 1980, it only aired for two hours on Friday night. BET first turned a profit in 1985 and it became the first black-controlled company listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1991. In 1998, Johnson and Liberty Media bought all outstanding shares of the company.
This purchase gave Johnson 42% of the company. Viacom acquired BET in 2000 for a reported $3 billion. Johnson became the first Black majority club owner of a major American sports league with his 2002 purchase of the Charlotte Bobcats. In 2010, Johnson sold his majority stake in the Charlotte Bobcats to Michael Jordan. Johnson remained BET CEO until 2006. Soon after, Johnson founded The RLJ Companies, a holding company with a diverse portfolio including hotel real estate investment, private equity, financial services, asset management, automobile dealerships, sports and entertainment, and Video lottery terminal gaming. The RLJ Companies is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland. By January 2009, his Ion Media had another sub-channel network, Urban TV, in the works with him targeted to African Americans.
In 2011, Johnson worked with Morgan Freeman to raise funds for hurricane preparedness in the Bahamas. Johnson released a neckwear line in coordination with PVH and The Ella Rose Collection, the RLJ Ella Rose Africa Tie Collection, in 2012 to benefit the charitable organization Malaria No More. In 2007, Johnson created the Liberia Enterprise Development Fund with a $30 million investment. The fund provides credit for Liberian entrepreneurs. As of 2013, Johnson was a member of the board of directors for RLJ Lodging Trust, RLJ Entertainment, Inc., Strayer Education, Think Finance, Inc., NBA Board of Governors, The Business Council, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Johnson has also served as a member of the board of directors for several other companies and organizations.
In 2016, Johnson finalized a partnership agreement with AMC Networks through his RLJ Company after launching his own video on demand streaming service Urban Movie Channel in 2014. According to the agreement, AMC will use its programming and distribution clout to benefit Acorn and UMC. Additionally, the RLJ-AMC partnership will allow for greater investment in content from Black creatives, Johnson emphasized. The agreement called for AMC to provide RLJ with a $60 million loan on a seven-year term and $5 million on a one-year term. AMC has received warrants to purchase at least 20 million shares or the equivalent of 50.1% of the company. The time frame for exercising those warrants is open-ended, AMC said. Johnson began dating Lauren Wooden in 2010. As of 2016, they married in May 2016.