Chief Innovation Officer, Dr. George James, Featured on CNBC: Here’s What Prominent Black Americans, Including BET Founder Robert Johnson, Want The Next Generation To Know

February 9, 2021 | In celebration of Black History Month, CNBC Invest in You is featuring weekly stories from CNBC contributors and members of the Financial Wellness Council, including the lessons they’ve learned growing up, their advice to Black youth, their inspirations and how they are working to close the racial wealth gap.

A reckoning is underway in America.

Spurred by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer last May and the cries for racial justice and equity, corporate America is starting to listen and address issues of diversity.

Yet at the same time, people of color are facing an outsized financial hit from the coronavirus pandemic.

We spoke with Black leaders about their advice for the next generation, as well as their defining career moments and lessons they’ve learned.

Robert Johnson, The RLJ Companies

Robert Johnson, founder and chairman of The RLJ Companies, didn’t grow up with a lot of money, but he knew working hard could give him an opportunity to succeed.

He started Black Entertainment Television with a $15,000 loan in 1980 and in 1991 he launched it as a public company — the first African-American-owned one traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

“My team and I stood on the platform on the Exchange floor and rang the bell, signifying that we were a publicly traded company participating in the U.S. economy like the major companies in this country have done for many years,” said Johnson, who became the country’s first Black billionaire in 2001.

“The fact that we were first, the fact that we symbolized what Black Americans can do if given an opportunity was the proudest, one of the proudest days of my life in business.”

Johnson, who is no longer on the Forbes billionaire list, took BET private in 1998 and sold it to Viacom in 2001 for approximately $3 billion. He then started The RLJ Companies, which is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, and invests in diverse businesses.

Bonawyn Eison, XP Investments