Pioneering billionaire entrepreneur Sheila Johnson

Kyra Phillips interviews Johnson, who reflects on her successes and challenges and shines a light on Middleburg, Virginia, for Black History Month.
5:21 | 02/26/21

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Transcript for Pioneering billionaire entrepreneur Sheila Johnson
We want to turn now to another illuminating history month exploration, Americans who have contributed to life and pioneering billionaire Sheila Johnson reflecting on her success and challenges. Kyra Phillips with the exclusive conversation. Reporter: This is wake -- what taking risks feels like, sounds like, because Sheila Johnson has been a risk taker all of her life. So it shouldn't be a surprise that she just learned how to play the cello during covid. What is it about music that contributes to the success of a human being? When you're sitting in an orchestra, or playing with a string quartet, you have to watch, you have to listen. I can read people's faces, I can tell whether they're lying to me, or whether they're telling me the truth, or they're just playing with me. Reporter: A fearless focus that led this university of Illinois music major and teacher to quite a fortune. Reporter: Co-founding black entertainment television in 1980. Soon to become the first black woman billionaire after its sale. Profits that have now become passion projects. Managing, operating, and investing in people, communities. And culture, that emboldens her brand. Salamander hotels and resorts. Why did you pick the word salamander? It's the only animal that can walk through fire and still come out alive. Reporter: A walk that started when Sheila's dad enrolled her in an all white school during segregation, her light skin keeping her under the racist radar. A covert resilience that eventually led her here, to middleburg, Virginia, a town built by slaves hundreds of years ago and a bold business deal that would define her destiny here. I remember coming into town every day, and I noticed a gunshop with a confederate flag in the window. It distressed me so much. I then called my lawyer and I said this is the address, and I said let's see if I can buy it. And I ended up buying the building. The flag comes down. I turn it into a market. Reporter: From integrating and influencing the board room, to the big boys. To the owner's box. Sheila is also the only black woman to hold a stake in three pro sports teams. I can be in a suite and there's all these white males up there, and I'm listening to them, they have been out on yachts together, they have played golf together, and I remember one time, there was another deal going down in that box, and I went over to them, and I heard them say Michael Jordan's name, I'm like, whoa, how many females do you have invested in this? And they go, well none. I said I'm investing. Well, we closed, I said no, you're going to open it back up and I became an investor. From a man's world to mentor. Johnson hasn't just invested in sports, she's invested in women. How does it make you feel to see your players protesting for social justice? When I saw them come out on the court, and turn around, with the bullet holes in the back of their shirts, I said I can't believe they're doing this. Boy are they brave. That was my first thought. The second thought was, I'm like you go. Reporter: Fearlessness, firsts, the Sheila Johnson gifts that keep on giving. Like giving 50 women and men of color a full ride to Harvard. Kimberly, is a Sheila Johnson fellow, and now one of only 500 black women architects in the country. Absolutely anything is possible. I know one young lady who is now clerking for supreme court justice Sonja Sotomayor, another young man who was homeless is now working for Samsung. They're all so successful, and I'm so proud of them. Reporter: Sheila's mantra, you invest in the person, they invest in the world. Is it harder to be a successful woman or is it harder to be a successful black woman? People always say, you know, you're a very successful black woman but I see myself as a woman. You can pin any label on me, they call me a light-skinned black woman or whatever they want to do, I just find, I'm a woman. And a woman who had a mother that always said -- You should never lose your power. Reporter: Which brings us back to conquering the cello. How sweet the sound. Kyra Phillips, thank you so much for that report. And so glad we got to hear that with you all.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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