2016 Regions Riding Forward® Winning Essay by Anaiya L.
Countless African Americans have paved the way in our society, and without them we would not and could not be where we are today. From Rosa Parks, to Thurgood Marshall, to Beyoncé, all have made overwhelming contributions in the world. To pick just one is problematic. The African American that inspires me the most, more than any other, is Robert Johnson.

Robert Johnson is an extraordinary businessman and entrepreneur. He beat the odds when he became the first African American billionaire. Growing up in the late 1940s, Johnson experienced firsthand experiences of segregation due to Jim Crow laws being prominent at the time. Majority of his childhood was spent in Freeport, Illinois, where he was the ninth out of ten children. Johnson graduated from Freeport High School in 1964, and pursued studies in history at the University of Illinois. Later, he earned a master’s degree in international affairs from Princeton University.

Robert Johnson was determined to be successful in life. After receiving his Master’s from Princeton, he moved to Washington D.C., to work for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Urban League. Four years later, Johnson became the vice president of governmental relations for the National Cable Television Association (NATC). It was here that Johnson developed the idea to establish a television network solely directed towards African Americans. Tom Wheeler, the president of NATC, loaned him $15,000 to fund his brilliant idea of gaining black viewers in television. Johnson also persuaded John Malone, the president of Telecommunications, Inc., to invest $500,000 in his project.

Johnson built his empire of a network from a tiny cable outlet, and never knew that his plan would turn into something so grand. Black Entertainment Television (BET) first aired in January of 1980. Although it only aired for two hours a week, it quickly became popular among the African American community and had claimed an audience of more than 70 million households. In 1991, BET had elevated and prospered to heights unforeseen, and became the first black-controlled company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

In 2001, Johnson sold BET to Viacom for over 3 Billion dollars, and remained the Chief Executive Officer until 2005. Johnson was now the first African American billionaire. Johnson currently owns the Charlotte Bobcats and still works in the television industry.

 Johnson is the perfect representation of the statement, "Anything is possible." The works of Robert Johnson have greatly impacted my life. I am whole-heartedly grateful for his perseverance towards his goals. Johnson accomplished much after coming from a background not respected by many. He made it, and that is a great inspiration for me. I know that I can do whatever I put my mind up to do. There is nothing you cannot achieve. I will never give up. I will be successful. I will thrive. One day, I hope to be just as inspirational to others as Robert Johnson is to me.

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