"We were right there with her, with every breath," Beverly Johnson tells PEOPLE of watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify

By Liz McNeil
September 28, 2018 06:57 PM
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As she watched Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Beverly Johnson says, “We were right there with her, with every breath.”

Johnson, 65, who accused Bill Cosby of drugging her in the mid-1980s, says, “For anyone who has gone through any kind of trauma, particularly sexual assault or harassment, it unearths a lot of emotions. So in that way, we’re going through it with her.”

Of Blasey Ford’s emotional testimony, Johnson adds: “There was no pretense. There’s no faking. There was no ‘Maybe she was.’ Or ‘maybe it was someone else’ and all those things people say to discount reality. There is no doubt that we as a nation, and the world, were not right there with her, every second of her testimony.”

“It happened on the biggest stage in the world,” she says. “And, collectively we were heard.”

As Johnson listened to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh vehemently deny the allegations he had assaulted Dr. Blasey Ford when the two were in high school, Johnson says, “It was astounding that a person who is being considered for Supreme Court justice would speak in such a partisan way. He spoke as if he was the victim. As if she was victimizing him. That it was a ‘conspiracy’ of the Democratic Party against him.”

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford; Brett Kavanaugh
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Just two days earlier, Johnson watched the news, as Cosby was sentenced to three to 10 years of prison, five months after being convicted of sexually assaulting Andrea Constand, at his mansion in 2004.

The moment, Johnson, says, “is very hard to come to grips with as an African American. Because there is a sadness too. He was a hero to many in the black community. But what he did was wrong and my sadness is with the victims.”

“I was concerned for them,” she says of the other Cosby accusers, who now total over 60 women. “Some of us have become friends now, and we check in on each other. We have a sisterhood. All the women who have come forward, not just those who have spoken out against Bill Cosby.”

Back in the mid-eighties, Johnson had gone to Cosby’s Manhattan townhouse for a what she had been told would be an acting audition. When she took a sip of cappuccino, she began to feel woozy and realized she had been drugged. She got angry and confronted Cosby, who then dragged her out of his home and threw her in a taxi, where Johnson passed out.

Bill Cosby
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Johnson went public with her account in December 2014 with an essay in Vanity Fair. She told PEOPLE the decision to come forward was largely due to her daughter, Anansa Sims, 40, now a mom of three children.

At first, Anansa expressed fear there would be retaliation against her mom for speaking out against Cosby. Then Johnson asked Anansa what she would tell her own daughter if she were ever in her place. That’s when Anansa told her, “Go, Mom. You are doing the right thing and I support you.”

“You see things differently when you have a child,” Johnson told People of her decision, “because, if anything, you have to take action.”

Johnson, who was the first African American woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue, and a trailblazer in the fashion industry, detailed Cosby’s actions in her memoir, The Face That Changed it All.

2017 Tribeca Film Festival - "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack Of Our Lives" World Premiere - Opening Night
Beverly Johnson
| Credit: Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty

And yesterday as she watched Dr. Blasey Ford, she felt hopeful that her testimony could lead to a moment of change.

“After her testimony, I felt a sense of relief, a big exhale,” she says. “Because we were heard. And it gives you hope that something might have changed or shifted in the powers that be. That maybe it’s changed someone’s mind.”

“For those of us who have come forward, it becomes something bigger than ourselves,” she says. “This is an opportunity for all of us.”

“We have to take advantage of the moment,” says Johnson who is focusing on making positive change, from supporting women who share their stories of sexual assault, to motivational speaking to women in the workforce, including corporations such as JP Morgan Chase, to investing in a new shoe company, Thesis Couture, run by a woman who is redesigning fashionable high heeled shoes for comfort.

“We all have to figure out the next steps,” says Johnson. “We are making headway but where do we go from here? We have to balance the power in every industry so our voices can be heard.”

If you or someone you care about is affected by sexual violence, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).