Dani Johnson Has a ‘Secret’
‘Secret Millionaire’ host on helping others, keeping a food budget and more
Dani Johnson was more passionate talking about helping the less fortunate, than her life as a multi-millionaire, best-selling author and a great mom. Her story is miraculous in itself. She grew up in poverty around drug abuse, was pregnant at 17, homeless at 21 and a millionaire at 23. She’s currently a multi-millionaire with five businesses, yet she has time to cook dinner from scratch every night for her five kids and husband, help with homework and do laundry. She’s set her family on a food budget of $100 a week and spent last Christmas Eve cooking at an orphanage with her family. She’s a true example of what you give, you get back tenfold. She talks to MSN TV about the next generation, lessons she learned from doing “Secret Millionaire” and what the hardest aspect of her life is. “Secret Millionaire” premieres Sunday, March 6, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on ABC.
MSN TV: You’ve stated that you initially did not want to be a part of the show. Why did you change your mind?
Dani Johnson: This concept was not appealing to us in the slightest at first. The reason we did not want to be a part of the show was because we have used our business, DaniJohnson.com, to generate millions of dollars in order to give it to others in secret. We’ve given it to orphans, the hurting, the abused, those who have been victimized by the sex trade. We personally have spent time with the poor. I’ve trimmed their nails and their hair, cooked them a hot meal, supplied for their needs. I’ve been a surrogate mother to them. We’ve stayed in touch and built relationships. We’ve done this in secret and so when people get help from us in the form of a check, they don’t know that it was us that gave them the check. We don’t write a check, it’s easy to write a check. It’s like paying a bill. There’s nothing that happens to you unless you’re involved in all of it. After a series of miraculous pushes we realized we were fighting God and he opened the door for us to see. The series of events made it really obvious we were supposed to do the show.
Why do you think the show found you to be on it?
You have to ask them.
OK, but we’re asking you.
There are lots of other millionaires to choose from, but I tell you, it was very interesting. I was exposed to things no child should ever see. I grew up on welfare. I grew up in a home with intense violence. My entire life growing up I was around extreme drug abuse that brought in verbal, physical, mental and sexual abuse. I was homeless at 21, totally depressed and suicidal most of my life. I had become the failure that everyone said I would be, then I started a business in the trunk of my car [and] in a payphone booth in two years. Today I’m a multi-millionaire. I own five companies and I am the best-selling author of “Spirit for Success,” “The Next Generation for Success” and a third book that’s been released. I’m a speaker, a business coach. I’m married with five kids. I live a very normal life. I cook for my family every night. We have a food budget of $100 a week.
Is it because I’m a millionaire? Is it because my background was very familiar to that neighborhood in Knoxville? I have no idea? Serving the homeless is very familiar to me, but it was a powerful experience. They did an awesome, awesome job with that episode. The way they edited seven, eight, nine days of content down to 43 minutes.
Even though you’ve been exposed to that kind of neighborhood in Knoxville, was there anything you were really shocked about since it had been awhile since you were living at that level of poverty?
Yes, what was very shocking was the Joy of Music. It’s one thing to feed the homeless, which I’ve done for years. These guys from the Joy of Music are taking the next generation and giving them an opportunity not to return back to poverty. They’re grooming them for success. I have a passion for kids being groomed to succeed because we are grooming them for failure. All those hours of schooling from kindergarten to twelve grade and not one hour on how to succeed financially, on how to make money, on building relationships, social success or emotional success. I wrote this book on how to groom kids for success in every area of their life from people skills, work habits, learning how to honor and respect, how to talk so it sets them apart.
When I came across the Joy of Music, I was impressed. They are reaching out to inner city kids who live in a neighborhood very similar to the one that I grew up in. There are requirements. You have to be low-income, you need to work on your grades to make sure they’re good, you need to have your shirt tucked in and you need to show up here to be the best that you can possibly be. The program teaches them things in a very cool environment, and they are giving these kids an opportunity to get out of the inner city. When I was there, I met these two recent high school graduates who have grown up in the Joy of Music. These are boys who normally would have been on drugs or impregnated part of their community. One was a saxophone player and the other was a piano player; they’ve both gotten scholarships at one of the biggest Universities in the nation. Those kids are not going back to where they came from because they have been given vision and skills — skills they will profit from for the rest of their lives. The biggest shock for me was there was an organization doing what they were doing out there. And that is changing generations, not just helping now. Helping and changing a generation. What a powerful organization!
What was the most valuable lesson you took from the show?
The most valuable lesson for me was to mobilize more people. My family and our staff have served and done many things. We have a very strong message about giving, but I have not yet reached out to our half a million clients worldwide and told them it’s their talent and skill and say, “We’re going to come together and infiltrate a city. We’re going to leave that place better than when we arrived.” My client base comes from every walk of life, from doctors, lawyers, stay at home mothers, hairdressers, contractors, rocket scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs.
After I did “Millionaire” I got 31 of our clients and our family to go into an orphanage for Christmas. We left our homes and our parties and all that stuff that people do at Christmas and we went in and served 42 kids. We adopted them for a week and we’ve been in touch with them since then. We brought customized gifts for them. We bought them to outings and out to lunch. I cooked for 80 people for that Christmas dinner. This volunteering has changed our client’s lives. It changed my life when I first did it. I have a contact that’s raising money like crazy to get this house built for this kid as well as contractors to come down and build. We’re using all the resources together to motivate people to change not only this nation but to make a difference in the whole world. We really can do it, it’s possible.
What is the most difficult aspect of what you do as a wife, mother and career woman?
It’s not my business. The business is the easiest part of what I do. Tonight, I’ll be making turkey soup from scratch with my family, doing homework and checking on the laundry. I would say the most challenging part is not the cooking that I do with my family at night. It’s definitely submitting to the relationship of our household and honoring my husband. It’s being a wife … My husband and I work together and we’ve lived together for 21 years. We have very passionate personalities. My life quest is to be an honorable woman and setting an honorable relationship for myself, my kids, but my clients as well. Being a wife has definitely been the biggest challenge.