Beverly Johnson first told her story of being drugged and assaulted by Bill Cosby during what was ostensibly an audition for The Cosby Show in the mid-80s, in the December 2014 issue of Vanity Fair. In June 2017, she also shared her praise for Andrea Constand, the woman whose charges against Cosby resulted on Thursday in him being found guilty on three counts of sexual assault. Johnson has shared her reaction to Cosby’s guilty verdict exclusively with Vanity Fair.
When I heard yesterday, April 26, 2018, the three guilty verdicts in the Bill Cosby sexual assault trial, I felt an unexpected and deep sense of sadness; not because of the verdict that was handed down—he is guilty—but because of the carnage left in the wake of his horrific acts. My mind quickly drifted to thoughts of the civil-rights movement that made it possible for a few black Americans, like Cosby, to forge their way into the broader American psyche, which had been prohibited for most of our country’s history.
Those few people became major icons every bit as important as the civil-rights leaders at that time, but in a slightly different manner. Cosby was a genuine hero in black culture, like no other in the entertainment landscape. He rose to the highest levels that had ever been achieved in American culture and entertainment by a black person.
Before Cosby, black characters in movies and television were largely depicted as drug addicts, pimps, and prostitutes. Madison Avenue made him into a marketing king for products ranging from Jell-O to Coca-Cola. He was among the first black entertainers to appear in major advertising campaigns as an advertising spokesperson.
For the first time, a black character was an American dad in an American family with American problems. And for over a decade, the black community saw a family on TV that looked largely like us. Cosby had a responsibility to his people, as one of the few leaders of color who was allowed to have a real voice in corporate America, media, and marketing.
Given yesterday’s three guilty verdicts, as egregious as this betrayal is, this conviction also underscores the power of democracy and solidifies the notion that no one, no matter how powerful or famous they may be, is above the rule of law.
It’s hard to articulate the damage Cosby did, not only to the 62 or more of us who he drugged and sexually assaulted. His actions betrayed the entire black community, and he deeply disgraced our leaders whose giant shoulders he stood upon, the shoulders of Sojourner Truth, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ms. Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, and many of our grandparents and great-grandparents who suffered the ultimate sacrifice and indignities in a brutal America, when black people were subjected to segregation and where lynchings were a part of everyday American life.
It’s also important to note that April 26, 2018 was the opening of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. This lynching museum is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. So, we have in fact come a long way in our collective willingness to remember and honor the past.
Because of the courage of Andrea Constand, Bill Cosby has finally been brought to justice by one of his victims, with support of the other victims and the #MeToo women’s movement. The other large issue here is the violation of trust by Cosby and the betrayal to generations of Americans who hung their hopes on his trajectory and the sense of a better future for all of us.
Thankfully, our world is changing, even with the profound disappointment of a fallen hero.
Shame on him.
Beverly Johnson is a model, actress, and singer, and the chairwoman and C.E.O. of the Beverly Johnson Luxurious Life Style Brand.