Beverly Johnson ruled runways around the world in the ‘70s and ‘80s, breaking down barriers for Black women. Although she can still walk the catwalk, the 59-year-old mother and grandmother is concentrating on ruling the boardroom.
In addition to being a spokeswoman for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, Johnson is building a hair care empire and gearing up to star in her first reality show, “Beverly Johnson’s Full House,” on the OWN network, with daughter Anansa.
ESSENCE.com recently caught up with Johnson to discuss her new show, her passion for Down Syndrome advocacy, and how she manages to have it all.
ESSENCE.com: Tell us about “Beverly Johnson’s Full House.” How did you end up with an OWN reality show?
BEVERLY JOHNSON: It’s a docu-series and it shows my daughter’s career and my career, and building the company I invented. It started because my daughter was moving in with me. She just got married and I have a new baby granddaughter named Ava. We talked about how [living together] would be a great time for us to bond and deal with old issues that we gripe about. I also wanted to connect with my granddaughter. I was looking at pitching some shows and I brought this show to OWN. They said, “We like that!” and put their spin on it.
I think it’s a novel idea because I don’t think people get a chance to settle things and heal wounds with their mothers. You’ll see us talking it out with our life coach. You’ll see us arguing, you’ll see us crying, you’ll see us doing our thing together. You’ll see me getting ready for the launch of my hair care line.
ESSENCE.com: What was your relationship with Anansa like before the show?
BEVERLY: It was great. As a matter of fact, it was really good. I didn’t know we had as much to talk about until we moved in together. I adore my daughter, we love each other, and we have lots of fun together.
ESSENCE.com: In addition to the new show and your hair care line, you’re also the international spokesperson for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. How did you get involved with that?
BEVERLY: I wanted to be involved because my sister has a child with Down Syndrome and my first cousin has Down Syndrome. I went to one of their events in Denver—a fashion show—and my niece and I took to the runway together. She just lit up. The confidence she’s had since this event is just amazing. I knew I wanted to be more involved with this organization.
Also, there’s a distinct disparity between African-American children who have Down Syndrome and others. Their mortality rate is 1.5 times greater. So an African-American child with Down Syndrome has an expected age of 36, and for whites and others, the expected age is 63. So, that’s another reason why I’m involved with the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.
ESSENCE.com: You’re a supermodel, businesswoman and soon-to-be TV star, how do you balance it all?
BEVERLY: I have no idea! I’m busier now than I’ve ever been in my entire life and I’ve had a pretty busy career and life so far. I realize that one of the things I’ve always wanted to do was to be a businesswoman. Not just licensing my name and my face, but actually owning the box my face is on. Last year it was a dream. One year later it’s come to fruition. [My hair care line] goes into Target in the spring, I launched my first website, and I’m doing all of the things that I’ve never had the courage to do.
“Beverly Johnson’s Full House” premieres in February on OWN.