Rolling Out

Beverly Johnson and Cameka Smith share experiences as Black women in business

Super model Beverly Johnson and Cameka Smith on the BOSS Network and mentorship

Iconic supermodel Beverly Johnson; and thought leader Cameka Smith, Ph.D., graced the Next Up conference in Chicago on Sept. 29, 2023. These influential women, each a powerhouse in their respective fields, imparted invaluable business insights. In an exclusive interview with rolling out, they delved into their journeys as women in the business world, shedding light on the pivotal role mentorship plays in their success stories. Their presence at the conference left an indelible mark, inspiring aspiring entrepreneurs and seasoned professionals alike to reach for new heights in their careers.

Ms. Johnson, please share the significance of your iconic Vogue cover.

Beverly Johnson: It’s a game changer. When they finally put me on that cover, it was historic. It really made Black people feel welcome into the high fashion world. I think it had an impact globally for Black people who hadn’t seen themselves in that light before.

Ms. Smith you’ve been supporting Black women in business for over 15 years with the BOSS Network. How has it impacted the lives of the women involved?

Cameka Smith: I think 15 years doing anything is a journey. I was talking to someone yesterday about organizations. And when you launch organizations that are social impact focused. it’s a lot of hard work. And sometimes that hard work is without financial reward, but you do it because you understand the impact that it’s going to have on your community and how it can change the trajectory of so many different people’s lives. We launched the BOSS Impact Fund and within just two years, we’ve been able to invest in over 60 Black women-owned businesses.

Please talk about the importance of having a mentor.

BJ: It’s crucial. My very first mentor was Naomi Sims. Naomi Sims was my predecessor, the most gorgeous woman you could ever lay eyes on. She welcomed me into the industry. She literally took me by the hand. That was a time when people weren’t always that receptive to you, Black or White, particularly when I got that Vogue cover. I mostly worked with White models. I went to the dressing room and I said, “Hey, good morning.” And nobody spoke to me. I was like, wait a minute, I can’t be getting it both ways. Having a mentor to go to, to tell her what was going on with me, she said, “Funny, the same thing happened to me.” She normalized that behavior, and so it didn’t affect me the way I thought it would.

CS: I love what Miss Beverly said. I always like listening to her intensely because she said something so profound when she talked about normalizing certain things. Miss Beverly has helped me to understand in our mentorship relationship that failure is a part of success. Nobody has great success without failures. I’ve learned so much from Miss Beverly, from her mentors. That’s what legacy is all about. We have been blessed with the gifts that we have, it’s not for ourselves, it’s for us to share with other people.

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