When you have nothing to lose, you can risk everything.
There was no reason to bet on Bruce Johnson, given where he started out. Poor, Black, and raised by a single mother who had a secret. He was the child she hid in plain view from the rest of her family.
Bruce would spend his youth at Chickasaw Park in Louisville—Kentucky’s segregated west end. He would grab the low hanging tree branches, then swing out over the Ohio River before dropping into the dangerous water below. He didn’t know how to swim, but was fearless and knew to paddle quickly back to shore before the current could drag him under. This tenacity served him well, and he learned to be a risk taker early on.
As an adult, he set out to just make a living—to do better than Black folks who tried their best before, while making his Momma and Grandmomma proud. His journey to becoming a successful TV journalist nearly killed him, but he refused to treat himself as a victim. His role was to use his voice and example to pull others out of deep waters.
The rollout for his retirement was unprecedented. Week-long on-air tributes, hour-long online tributes from corporate CEOs, former colleagues, Congressmembers, the Mayor, and the governor. After a near forty-five year career, all was deserved and expected, except for a final tribute—seeing his image secretly painted on the Wall of Fame outside the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant alongside Barack and Michelle Obama, Oprah, and Dave Chappelle. No one could have imagined such an ending. Or could they? Bruce Johnson’s journey is the culmination of his mother and grandmother’s stories—the ultimate American story of race, opportunity, and perseverance.
Bruce Johnson recently retired from WUSA-TV9 (CBS) in Washington, DC after serving forty-four years as an anchor and reporter. He anchored the six o’clock news and the seven o’clock news broadcast, called Off Script with Bruce Johnson. Bruce has won twenty-two Emmys, including the prestigious Ted Yates Award—which is awarded only with a unanimous vote of The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) Board of Governors. He has been inducted into the Society of Professional Journalists Hall of Fame (SPJ), the NATAS Silver Circle, and the Washington DC Hall of Fame. He was selected as the Capital Press Club’s “Journalist of the Year” and chosen for the Murrow award. Bruce’s most prized awards are his community service and civic awards, which number in the hundreds. Bruce’s assignments for WUSA9-TV have taken him all over the world, including Moscow, Paris, Stockholm, Rome, Budapest, Bangkok, Tokyo, Dakar, Port-au-Prince, Beijing, Shanghai, and most recently, Cuba. Bruce started work at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati while still an undergraduate in Political Science at Northern Kentucky University. Northern Kentucky University has since awarded him an honorary doctorate degree. Bruce is a member of the National Press Club, The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ), and a lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Bruce lives in Washington, DC with his wife and family. He is an avid cyclist.
“That which immediately comes to mind about Bruce Johnson is: Truth Seeker. No matter the story or person being interviewed, this intrepid news reporter/anchor’s ONLY objective was ‘to get the truth.’ In Surviving Deep Waters, Bruce is just as earnest and honest in examining himself...and then candidly sharing personal matters that will surprise, maybe even shock you. I have to believe that all who know Bruce Johnson would agree, that ‘he pulls no punches.’”
– James Brown, Host, the NFL Today and Special Correspondent for CBS News
“Bruce inspires me to this very day as I continue my own career journey that hopefully enhances opportunities for others to be a real difference maker through actions—not just the superficial chit chat I tend to dislike at the various journalism conferences. Bruce Johnson is a winner. A winner against cancer. A winner against those who tried to change his approach to covering news, no matter their rank on the corporate ladder. Bruce is the ultimate winner because he always learned and grew , thrived and inspired so many in journalism to make a difference, especially African Americans who still need his help every single day.”
– Dave Roberts, Senior Vice President, ESPN
“At a time in our history when newspapers are dying all over the country, when many radio stations are building audiences by embracing alternative realities, and when more and more local TV stations are in the hands of corporate entities devoted to ever increasing margins of profit, who will cover City Hall? Whoever they are, wherever they are—on social media or standing on street corners with megaphones—Bruce Johnson is their model.”
– Gordon Peterson, Retired Washington TV News Anchor, Host Inside Washington, PBS