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Inspiration from John H. Johnson

Estimated Lesson Time: 2 minutes

John H. Johnson (1918–2005) was CEO and chairman of Johnson Publishing company. John H. Johnson rose from the welfare rolls of the depression to become the most successful black businessman in American history; the founder of EBONY, and JET magazines; a member of the FORBES 400.

Success is actively seeking opportunity. Like many African-American people living in the south in the 1930’s, the Johnson’s heard that there were more opportunities in the north and made the move.

Success is seeking knowledge and inspiration. Mr. Johnson was said to have read and been inspired by the writings of success authors since he was a teenager; including the works of Dale Carnegie.

Success is doing your best because you never know who may be watching. Mr. Johnson proved to be an excellent student in high school. Because of his achievements, in 1936, Mr. Johnson was invited to speak at a dinner held by the Urban League. The President of the Supreme Liberty Life Insurance Company was so impressed with Mr. Johnson’s speech that he offered him a job and a scholarship to attend college part-time.

Success is taking risks. Mr. Johnson ended up borrowing $500 from the Citizens Loan Corporation to start Johnson Publishing, using his mother’s furniture as collateral.

Success is a direct result of helping others. Mr. Johnson’s magazine, then called Negro Digest, was a magazine for giving hope to others, by documenting stories of successful African-Americans.

Success is modeling success. Modeled after Life and Look, Mr. Johnson’s magazine aimed to tell the story of Black America in words and pictures.

Success is persistence. Mr. Johnson’s persistence helped him to get the then first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to write an article for his magazine. The sensation this article created caused the magazine’s circulation to double almost overnight.

Success is knowing how to influence people. “When I go in to see people—and I sell an occasional ad now—I never say, ’Help me because I am black’ or ’Help me because I am a minority.’ I always talk about what we can do for them...”

Success is loving what you do. At age 85 in 2003, Mr. Johnson was still the active chairman of Johnson Publishing. “Retirement is not in this company’s vocabulary. If you are well and able to work, you can stay at the company and that’s what I plan to do.” And he did.

[Sources: http://www.johnsonpublishing.com, http://www.howard.edu]


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    Year To Success
    Bo Bennett, PhD

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