Sheila C. Johnson, Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Black Entertainment Television to Deliver UDC 2017 Commencement Address

Sheila C. Johnson, Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Black Entertainment Television to Deliver UDC 2017 Commencement Address

March 20, 2017

Contact: John Gordon, Jr. Communications Director
202.274.5998 (o) or 202.701.8805 (c) or


Washington, DC—The University of The District of Columbia (UDC) announced today that entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila C. Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), part-owner of the Washington Capitals (NHL), the Washington Wizards (NBA) and the Washington Mystics (WNBA), and founder of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, will deliver the keynote address during the spring Commencement Convocation, and will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. This year’s commencement will be held Saturday, May 13, 2017, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place, NW, Washington, DC.

Ms. Johnson co-founded BET along with her ex-husband Robert “Bob” Johnson in 1979. The successful cable TV network focused on African-American audiences and was sold to Viacom for $3 billion in 2002; both Johnsons now rank among the wealthiest African Americans in the country.

She founded Salamander Hospitality in 2005, a hospitality and management company through which she owns and manages two resorts and an inn, among other properties. She is also the Vice Chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment. As the majority owner of the Washington Mystics WNBA franchise and a minority owner of the NBA’s Washington Wizards and NHL’s Washington Capitals, she is the first African American woman with a stake in three professional sports teams. She is also a documentary film producer of acclaimed pictures such as A Powerful Noise (2008) and The Other City (2010), a film about the AIDS epidemic in Washington, D.C.

“We are honored and privileged to have Sheila Johnson as our commencement speaker,” said President Ronald Mason. “Her distinguished career, entrepreneurial spirit, and philanthropic endeavors serve as an inspiration to our students as we encourage them to dream big and seek to be their personal best. Her passion for education and ingenuity is in line with the University of the District of Columbia’s mantra to – aspire, accomplish, and take on the world.”

Ms. Johnson was named global ambassador for CARE, a leading humanitarian organization that combats global poverty by empowering women. With an estimated net worth of $400 million, she ranks second only to Oprah Winfrey among the wealthiest black females in the United States, and seventh among all African Americans. President Barack Obama appointed Johnson – a fervent supporter of education and the arts – to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and she also sits on the boards of numerous foundations and universities, including the Board of Governors of Parsons New School for Design in New York, and the Leadership Council at Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership (CPL).

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.

For more information on the 2017 UDC commencement program and honorees, please visit