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commUNITY spotlight: Model Beverly Johnson has fond memories of Buffalo

Beverly Johnson may be one of the most famous models in the world, but her hometown upbringing in Buffalo keeps her grounded

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Beautiful, smart, and vocal are just three words that can describe Beverly Johnson.

The model, actress, and businesswoman was more than happy to discuss her upbringing in Buffalo with Channel 2's Claudine Ewing for a segment on the monthly show commUNITY.

"Buffalo is a wonderful place to grow up and raise a family. I was very fortunate to have an amazing mother, and father, and sisters, and brothers," Johnson said.

Johnson was born and raised in Buffalo. Her father was a steel laborer and her mother was a nurse.

The public schools she attended can boast that Johnson once a student.

"I went to School 74 elementary school," now known as Hamlin Park Academy. She attended Bennett High School.

"My whole family was about academics, academics, and I loved to make the honor roll at Bennett and walk across the stage," she said.

Johnson was athletic. She worked at  a Buffalo YMCA and taught swimming. To this day, she said when she returns home, people remember her, not for modeling, but as a swimmer.

Credit: Beverly Johnson

"I'll be walking down the street in Buffalo and they'll go, 'Beverly, Beverly,' " she said.

Credit: Beverly Johnson

And while she thought it was because she was a model, the person would say, " 'You taught me how to swim.' It was one of my biggest accomplishments, teaching so many people how to swim in Buffalo, New York," she said.

Modeling became her claim to fame. 

"It's a defining moment in my life to be the first Black woman on the cover of American Vogue in August 1974. Every model's dream is to be on the cover of American Vogue, that's our Oscar, that's our gold medal," Johnson said.

While many would say she would never get on the cover, Johnson said at the time she really didn't understand at the time that it was because she was Black.

"All I knew was I needed that Vogue cover to become the top model in the world," she said.

During her interview, she discussed some of the requirements for modeling and why she is pleased to see plus-size models around the world.

As a well known model, Johnson uses her voice to speak out on issues.

"It's absolutely wonderful to be able to support other women regarding sexual assault, sex harassment" issues, she said.

Buffalo remains near and dear to Johnson, even while living on the West Coast. She spoke highly of her best friend and nephew, Henri Muhammad, who is a concert violinist, along with another nephew who is a Buffalo Police officer.

Johnson, 68, is still busy and active and giving words of wisdom.

"For all of those little black girls that have dreams, yes, you can make it to," she said with a smile.

Credit: Beverly Johnson