Down Syndrome Spokesperson Beverly Johnson: Raising Money Is a Very Arduous Journey

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Johnson to receive the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award on Oct. 25 in Denver

As the international spokesperson for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, it's Beverly Johnson's job to spread word about the organization and the work it does. But for the legendary supermodel, it's not work when it hits so close to home.

“I’ve been around it all my life, and of course when my sister gave birth to a child with Down syndrome, it really hit home because then it was up to us as a family to make sure that [my niece] Natalie reached her full potential as a human being," Johnson told The Hollywood Reporter. The 62-year-old also grew up with a cousin diagnosed with the condition. “[My cousin] had five siblings and at one point she was the only one with a job. She is so unique and so special." 

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Oct. 25 should prove to be a special night for Johnson, who will receive the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award in Denver during the Global Down Syndrome Foundation's Be Beautiful Be Yourself fashion show and event. At the annual show, models with Down syndrome are escorted down the runway by celebrities. Among the names expected to attend this year are Jamie FoxxAlec BaldwinHelen HuntLaura Dern, and John C. McGinley.

“It changes lives,” said Johnson, who escorts her niece Natalie down the runway each year. “My niece is such a changed young lady today compared to who she was four years ago. She is confident, she has pictures of herself all over her wall. She has a boyfriend. She’s more outspoken. She even talks about how she wants to get married. It’s transformational." 

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A firm believer in the foundation’s progress, the self-proclaimed "modelpreneur" added that she sees how much of an impact the funding makes on research and discoveries for Down syndrome. “It’s a very arduous journey. It’s for awareness, it’s for research and it’s to celebrate these very special and sometimes really gifted people," she said. 

As for her personally, Johnson — who recently marked the 40th anniversary of being the first black woman to grace the cover of Vogue magazine — is prepping for the release of her memoir due out in 2015 from Simon & Schuster.