Sheila C. Johnson Will Deliver the 2019 Commencement Address

Sidwell Friends School is honored to welcome Sheila C. Johnson back to campus to deliver the address at the School’s 135th Commencement. Ms. Johnson has a long and distinguished career as an entrepreneur, media and sports executive, and philanthropist. A classically trained violinist and member of the Sidwell Friends faculty from 1972-75, she served on the Sidwell Friends Board of Trustees from 1992-96. She is the parent of Paige Johnson ’04 and Brett Johnson ’08.  

Ms. Johnson is the founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, a collection of luxury properties that was ranked #4 in Minority-Owned Companies in the DC metro area by the Washington Business Journal in 2019. The collection includes Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, VA, and the Innisbrook in Tampa Bay, FL, home of the PGA Valspar Championship at the acclaimed Copperhead course. 

As Vice Chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Ms. Johnson is the only African American woman to have ownership in three professional sports teams: the NBA’s Washington Wizards, the 2018 Stanley Cup Champions the Washington Capitals, and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, for which she serves as President and Managing Partner. She has also served on the Executive Committee of the United States Golf Association, where she spearheaded efforts to increase diversity in the game of golf. 

In 2018, Ms. Johnson was included on Forbes’s “America’s Self-Made Women” list. In 2016, she co-founded WE Capital, a venture capital consortium that supports and empowers female-led enterprises that can advance transformational social change. She also serves on the board of the Greater Washington Partnership, which seeks to strengthen the region’s global position as a center for commerce and innovation. 

Ms. Johnson has long been a significant influence in the entertainment industry, starting with her work as a founding partner of Black Entertainment Television (BET), which she sold in 1999. She has served as an executive producer on four documentaries and helped finance the award-winning film Lee Daniels’ The Butler. Ms. Johnson is the founder and chair of the Middleburg Film Festival, an annual celebration of independent film. 

A fervent supporter of education and the arts, Ms. Johnson’s leadership positions include the Board of Governors of Parsons School of Design/The New School in New York, home of the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center; the Leadership Council at Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership; and Director Emeriti of The Jackie Robinson Foundation. She helped found Street Soccer USA’s Lady Salamanders program, which helps low-income and homeless young women find their inner strength through sport. She was honored with the 2012 Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal and the 2018 Lincoln Medal Award. Ms. Johnson received a Bachelor of Arts in music from the University of Illinois. 

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