Entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila Crump Johnson is the only African-American female to enjoy ownership in three professional sports teams: the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals. Furthermore, as CEO of Salamander Hospitality, a company she founded in 2005, Ms. Johnson oversees a growing portfolio of luxury properties, including Woodlands Inn, in Summerville, SC, which is one of only a handful of properties to receive both a prestigious Forbes Five Star rating and a AAA Five Diamond rating for lodging and dining.
In 2007, she acquired Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort. Set on 900 acres, this 72-hole Florida getaway hosts the PGA Tour’s annual Transitions Championship and the LPGA Legends Tour Open Championship. The company is also building the eagerly-anticipated Salamander Resort & Spa, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in charming Middleburg, VA.
In addition, Johnson is a partner in ProJet Aviation, a company specializing in aviation consulting, aircraft acquisitions, management, and charter services based in Winchester, VA. And she is a partner in Mistral, a maker of fine bath, body and home products.
Ms. Johnson has long been a powerful influence in the entertainment industry as a founding partner of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and, most recently, as a film producer. In partnership with other investors, her first film, Kicking It, premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. She executive produced her second film, A Powerful Noise, which premiered at the 2008 TriBeCa Film Festival in New York, as well as her third film, She Is The Matador.
In 2006 she was named global ambassador for CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting poverty worldwide by empowering women since they are in a pivotal position to help their communities escape poverty. “Sheila’s I Am Powerful Challenge” was instrumental in raising funds for this important work.
A fervent supporter of the arts and education, she was recently appointed by Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and serves as Chair of the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design in New York. She sits on the boards of Americans for the Arts, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Tiger Woods Foundation, the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, Howard University, the University of Illinois Foundation, and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
An accomplished violinist, Ms. Johnson received a Bachelor of Arts in music from the University of Illinois, as well as honorary degrees from numerous other institutions. Ms. Johnson, who lives in Middleburg, VA, is a mother of two, and remarried to the Honorable William T. Newman, Jr.
Here, she talks about her new film, The Other City, an expose’ about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Washington, DC which recently premiered at the 2010 TriBeCa Film Festival.
Kam Williams: Hi, Ms. Johnson, it’s an honor to speak with you.
Sheila Johnson: Thanks, Kam, how are you?
KW: Fine thanks. I saw The Other City and loved it, and I told my readers I’d be interviewing you, so I have plenty of questions to get to.
SJ: Oh, great!
KW: Reverend Florine Thompson asks, what is it about HIV/AIDS that prompted you to produce the film?
SJ: I really wanted to do this film in order to ignite the discussion, and to reeducate. What has been happening, that is so wrong right now is that AIDS has disappeared from the radar screen. It’s no longer a celebrity-driven cause anymore, so I wanted to bring it back to the people. I also wanted to give dignity to the victims now suffering with AIDS, so that people can see not only that the disease hasn’t gone away, but is spreading at an alarming rate and disproportionately affecting African-American women. So, I think we need to get out and start educating young people, and especially the black churches need to be talking about it from the pulpit. And we, as a society, need to stop hiding behind the stigma in order to be able to give the disease the platform we need to start the reeducation process and halt the increase in the transmission rate.
KW: 2010 Florida State University grad Laz Lyles would like to know what was the most surprising thing you’ve discovered about the epidemic?
SJ: How it has increasingly become a heterosexual disease. The thing I wished the movie had emphasized more was how many married women we now have coming down with it. Their husbands are bringing it home to them. I had three women come up to me and say that the only sin they committed in life was getting married. That’s very sad. The other surprising thing we’re finding is that AIDS is hitting at a younger age, as young as 13 among gay males.
KW: Lester Chisholm says that Urban Prep, an African-American male charter high school in Chicago has a 100% college acceptance rate, and it’s aiming for a 100% college graduation rate. He wonders whether we might accomplish a 100% success rate in the fight against AIDS, if we adopted this same attitude for a given population.
SJ: I think that we really could stop this disease, if we seriously educate our young people, starting in junior high, and continue delivering the message in high schools and across college campuses. I really do. Meanwhile, scientists and doctors are still working on finding a cure, and some say they’re getting closer and closer. Between education and research, we can stop it.
KW: Larry Greenberg says, “I know that in addition to your enormous accomplishments in business and philanthropy you are a virtuoso violinist.” He asks, “Do you still find time to play?”
SJ: I don’t. I’m very ashamed about that. My mother’s on me all the time about that, and so, is my husband. He always says, “You’re such a great violinist. Why don’t you keep playing?” I guess what has happened is that between raising a family and trying to keep businesses afloat I just do not have the time to practice, because I’m such a perfectionist. I suppose I could make the time, even if I sat down for just an hour every day, but I’ve lost the discipline of practice.
KW: Rev Thompson asks, “Who has been your role model along your journey? Who or what has been your source of inspiration in life?”
SJ: I’d have to say there have been many, many people. Basically, educators have been my role models. There are two teachers in particular, from high school and college, who I stay in touch with and talk to on about a monthly basis. And as I’ve gotten older, there have been more and more people I’ve met in life who’ve become role models. Four years ago, I remarried, and my husband is one of the most inspiring men I’ve ever met. He’s a Chief Judge, and I just love to watch him on the bench to observe how he tries to find a silver lining in the most hardened of criminals in order to give them a second chance. Another person I admire is the President of the University of Illinois, Joe White, who I think is brilliant. He’s always giving me terrific advice on different issues. I am lucky to have a lot of extraordinary friends who really do help me including, o