Interview: Model Beverly Johnson

When I hear the name Beverly Johnson, one of the first things that come to mind is one of the first African American models. Not much else is known about the woman who opened the doors for our generation of models which include Tyra Banks, Naomi Campbell and Chanel Iman. We can’t seem to escape the triumphs of these successful super models turned entrepreneurs. Well, I had the opportunity to sit down with Ms. Johnson and discover who the woman behind the first African American Vogue cover truly is. Let’s just say, a few words to describe her would be business woman, health fanatic, soon to be reality star and Grandmother.

LJ Knight: Beverly, you were one of the first Black women on the cover of Vogue Magazine. At that time, did you realize that you were going to be an icon? Had the significance of the moment hit you then?

Beverly Johnson: No. I did not realize it at the time. It was one of the most exciting times. Whenever I talk about it, I get excited. I can remember getting the call and seeing the magazine. It was like oh my God. You are a model and this is a big deal. It hit me later that I was one of the first women of color on the magazine and what that implied. Doing interviews from people in Senegal, Africa and… Whoa! This was like deeper than what I wanted. I was such a young lady. I just really thought that I wanted to take on the responsibility. I felt like it was a gift. I wanted to make sure that I respected it.

LJ Knight: This is a side-note but I had your Barbie Doll. I remember when my Mom bought it for me.

Beverly Johnson: Awww…

LJ Knight: Back then, Mattel and other doll makers were not focusing on creating Black dolls as much. Especially Black dolls in the image of successful female Black icons. What was that like?

Beverly Johnson: It was my idea. I brought it to Matchbox. The woman who did the first Mattel came out of retirement to create the face for my doll. But at any rate, they wanted to sell my doll along with Christie Brinkley and Cheryl Tiegs as a package. But they did not want the blonde dolls because they already had blonde dolls. Basically my doll was the only one that did well. But, that is so funny, you better keep that doll!

LJ Knight: Yes, I remember that I was super excited. Fast forward to today. Do you think that African American models and other models of color are finally getting their just due?

Beverly Johnson: I went to fashion week this year. As somebody who really hasn’t been on the other side, sitting in the audience, it was a little disappointing to see that some of the designers did not have any Black girls in their show. I feel like it is so ridiculous. First of all the ones that didn’t have them in their show, they should have because their clothes were not all that!

LJ Knight: (laughs) Oh okay!

Beverly Johnson: We are such a contributor in the industry and to not be included, it takes me back to the 70’s for sure. A very small minded people.

LJ Knight: Why do you think that is? Do you think it boils down to good old fashion racism? Is it really that simple? Or is there something deeper at play?

Beverly Johnson: It’s really that simple. I think it may also be something deeper because they do not even know that they are doing it. It’s just so engrained. I do feel that it is a generation that is dying out. I remember Obama saying recently that pretty soon the whole generation of people that were aligned with the White/Black bathrooms will be gone.

LJ Knight: True.

Beverly Johnson: That is why is it really disheartening to see the industry still so backwards.

LJ Knight: Do you have any thoughts on supermodels being so thin compared to you time?

Beverly Johnson: Well, they were always thin. I think that because we can know what is happening on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds, that comes along with responsibility. If the images that we put out now are really affecting our young and I think they are, then it is our responsibility to put out proper images. This is why my daughter is my hero. She is a plus size model. She is going out there saying “ I love myself. I love my body. I tried starving myself and I’m not going to do that t myself.” I think that that is a very healthy image.

LJ Knight: You have been a private woman for most of your career. What was the reasoning behind your decision to do the reality show on Oprah’s OWN Network?

Beverly Johnson: Well, I have a production company. I told Oprah I had a few shows that I wanted to pitch to her network. I did not know that she was going to pitch the reality show. I was like whoa! You want that one? What about these others? It is a show about a mother-daughter relationship. It is a reality show but it is not the typical one. There is a lot of fun and tears. There is a lot of take away. You learn how to build relationships and have the tools to build stronger bonds with people that you love. I think people will like it a lot.

LJ Knight: Were you just ready to share that part of your life?

Beverly Johnson: I don’t know what it was! I had a number of shows that I pitched to her. She liked the idea of my and my daughter. My daughter was coming to live with me. I told Oprah a story about my daughter and her fiance coming to live with me and I explained that my daughter wrote out a contract. I was like a contract! She thought it was funny. I asked my daughter and she was okay with it. We get to work with life coaches and therapists. We get to talk about things that people never get to talk about with their mothers.

LJ Knight: What was the contract if you don’t mind me asking? Was the contract saying mom you can’t be in my business? (laughs)

Beverly Johnson: You can’t tell me what time to come home. I said honey, I wasn’t going to tell you what time to come home. But you know me. Tell me at what time I should call the police. If you don’t come home!

LJ Knight: (laughs)

Beverly Johnson: It was like crazy things like that. My mother grew up in an era where everyone kept secrets. There are things that I will never know. I just felt like my daughter had a baby and I’m a Grandmother now. A little girl named Ava. Oh she is cute! I felt like what a perfect opportunity. My daughter would never go to a therapist or a life coach with me. She realized the benefit from people that are knowledgable about communication.

LJ Knight: You only have one daughter right?

Beverly Johnson: One daughter, a son in law and a grandbaby now.

LJ Knight: What is it like being a Grandmother? You mentioned your granddaughter earlier and said she was a cutie.

Beverly Johnson: Oh! People always say wait until you get your grand daughter. I would say yeah yeah. But I can’t even tell you how much I am in love with this child. When she cries, my heart is breaking. She cannot cry in my house. She gets whatever she wants.

LJ Knight: Oh no Grandma. That’s not right. (laughs)

Beverly Johnson: I can’t help it! My heart breaks.

LJ Knight: How old is she?

Beverly Johnson: 7 months.

LJ Knight: You are in a world of trouble. You have already started the spoiling.

Beverly Johnson: She had a fashion show yesterday. We were changing her little clothes. (laughs).

LJ Knight: When people say Beverly Johnson, what would you like to come to mind aside from model?

Beverly Johnson: Business woman. I think that there are more women going into business now than ever before. In these economic times when you cannot find a job- you make your job. So I want to be remembered as a business woman.

LJ Knight: You are absolutely right. Now you also have to be good at more than one thing as well. You have to have multiple streams of income. Last question. Can you tell me something about Beverly that no one knows? We know you are a model and opened the door for other women of color in the fashion industry. But, does Beverly Johnson cook? Does Beverly Johnson sew?

Beverly Johnson: Unfortunately, I can’t cook. You will find all of that in the reality show. You think of yourself in a certain way. But when I did this show I realized that I am not a good listener. I do take my daughter for granted. You learn a lot about yourself when you have someone looking in with the third eye.

To learn more about Beverly and her various entrepreneurial endeavors, check out her website BeverlyJohnson.com. And don’t forget to tune into OWN on March 31st to see Beverly’s new show “Beverly’s Full House.”
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Author: La’Juanda “LJ” Knight
Owner – YeahSheSaidIt
“If You Don’t Say It, I Will”
facebook.com/LJKnightyeahshesaidit
Twitter.com/LJKnight

2 Comments

  1. Nice interview! I don’t have OWN but hopefully I can catch some of these episodes on-demand 🙂

  2. She is amazing looking to be 59. Just goes to show the life one can lead if they take care of themselves. Life does’t end at 40 or 50. She is an inspiration.

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