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HCC Foundation announces scholarship donation on behalf of Robert L. Johnson

The Highland Community College Foundation recently received a $100,000 donation to the Edna Hayden Johnson Memorial Scholarship Fund from General Mills on behalf of former board member Robert L. Johnson. Johnson served as a member of the General Mills Board of Directors from June 1999 to October 2004.

“In recognition of Robert Johnson’s service as a board member of General Mills, the company is proud to make the donation on his behalf in connection with its former Director Planned Giving Program that recognized board service through philanthropy,” said Ben Backberg, assistant corporate secretary.

Named after Robert L. Johnson’s mother, the Edna Hayden Johnson Memorial Scholarship Fund, established in 2001, supports women of African descendants pursuing career fields that develop the nation’s children. The scholarships are awarded to students pursuing degrees and certificates in professional education, nursing, early childhood education, or cosmetology at Highland Community College.

Edna Hayden Johnson was born and raised in Good Hope, Mississippi, where she worked as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in the Good Hope community. After a consolidation of the schools in Hickory, Mississippi, Mrs. Johnson continued to teach elementary grades at a “colored school” in Hickory. She relocated to Freeport, Illinois with her husband, Archie Johnson, in the late 1950s. In Freeport, she raised 10 children, including Robert L. Johnson, and three grandchildren while working, volunteering, and remaining active in her St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

According to her family, education was a priority for Edna Hayden Johnson; she encouraged all of her children and grandchildren to complete school. Many Johnson family members have attended Highland Community College.

Robert L. Johnson spent the majority of his childhood in Freeport. He graduated from Freeport High School in 1964 and went on to study history at the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana. He completed a master’s degree in public affairs from Princeton University in 1972. Johnson founded Black Entertainment Television (BET) in 1979 and served as the chairman and CEO of the first cable network targeting an African American audience. He became the first African American billionaire upon selling the network to Viacom in 2001. Johnson has since started the holding company and asset management firm, The RLJ Companies, and has invested in numerous businesses, organizations, political causes, and campaigns.

The Highland Community College Foundation was established in 1962 as a charitable, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) corporation that exists solely for the purpose of raising funds in support of Highland Community College. The HCC Foundation has provided more than $7 million in scholarship support to Highland students, and $12.6 million in grants to the College. None of this would have been possible without the generosity of our corporate and individual donors.

For more information about the Edna Hayden Johnson Memorial Scholarship, or Highland Community College Foundation, call 815.599.3413 or email

2998 W. Pearl City Road
Freeport, IL 61032-9341

Fax 815-235-6130