Oprah never stops moving in her external persona as our Oprah Winfrey, inspiration, talk show host (seems so trite to even write this one), ever changeable television / movie producer, book & script finder, & indeed, host & inspirational “speaker” in our homes). she is not just inspirational but truly aspirational & I think this is what she would like most of all, getting us off our asses & thinking/doing for ourselves rather than against ourselves…since 1983.
unlike many sensationalist daytime talk shows of her era (here’s looking at you, Jerry Springer, even with your “maudlin endings”), Oprah used much of her airtime to promote reading itself (a lost pastime in our age of 140 word limits & big graphics that say it without words, heck, we are graduating kids who actually CANNOT read or write – I’m telling you…they allow phonetic writing, OMG can you believe it, & I personally have proof of this guys!), self-improvement & empowerment, spirituality (not necessarily religion) & charitable giving, & hopefully bringing out that impetus in people. Oprah was also Academy Award nominated for her role in The Color Purple, not to mention her involvement, production, finding amazing stories & acting in several other movies including Selma, The Hundred Foot Journey, Precious, Beloved, Nine & too many TV shows, specials & movies to name.
cited as the richest African American of the 20th century & born Orpah Gail Winfrey in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Vernita Lee, a former maid, & Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner, barber, & city councilman. she was raised by a single, teenaged mother in the city of Milwaukee, & shortly after her birth, her mother left & Oprah to be raised by her grandmother, Hatti Mae Lee in terrible conditions. her only friends? farm animals. however, even at that age Oprah had a very imaginative mind & would frequently give the animals dramatic parts & include them in games. due to her grandmother teaching her to read & write before the age of three, she was often promoted several grades ahead of her age in school. (sorry, but suck it Waldorf “we wait till our kids express the desire to learn” theory…ugh).
sadly, at nine she was raped by her nineteen year-old cousin, & this wouldn’t be the only sexual abuse she experienced. her cousin, a family friend, her mother’s boyfriend & her uncle during her stay in Milwaukee rack up the list of the core challenges that made her not only the strong woman she is today, but the empathetic one. like many of us who have had such experiences, she never told a soul because the predators swore her to silence. at thirteen, Oprah ran away from home & at the age of fourteen became pregnant with an ill son who died shortly after birth. she took the death as a second chance in life, but was sent to live once again with her father in Nashville. Oprah’s father was very strict & made education the number-one priority.
in high school, she began reading news on the radio & later, during college, was offered a job as a co-anchor on the CBS television station, declining several times before being convinced by her speech professor that it could be the ultimate step to launch her career. Oprah wanted to find work outside of Nashville & was soon offered a job in Baltimore. the job offer came a few months before graduation, so she had to make a choice between taking it & finishing her degree. she turned out to be not the best reporter & was shortly fired…just going to show that even immensely talented people sometimes take a while to find their niche. however, in 1981, Oprah sent recorded tapes of her show to a talk show in Chicago called “A.M. Chicago”.
during this time, I actually met Oprah filming an interview at my high school! this was a performing & visual arts “fame school” as folks called it, where famous folks came & went to inspire us “future creative types”. I have to say, Oprah is one of those people who burned an image in my mind that I still see clearly. she was, even then, totally in charge. I remember her as the lone woman on set, demanding & directing the men to get it done & moving around like a hurricane. I’d literally never seen anything like it. I watched intently, & little did I know then that it would be a reminder to me during dark times to stick to my instincts & vision to matter what. needless to say, she sunk in…& I am privileged for the seeds planted early on which I have tried to manifest, & continue to! 🙂 I’ve been lucky enough to have others pick up where my vision left off, but Oprah was one of my first images of what a woman can do when she puts her mind to it, throws outside constructs to the wind & holds her vision & goals as most important. I’m quite sure Oprah’s goals have shifted multiple times over the years to where she is today, & they will continue to shift, but her role is clear to all of us.
in September 1985, she changed the name of her show to “The Oprah Winfrey Show”, which ran ‘til 2011, sweeping 47 Emmy awards & inspiring millions. Oprah has published numerous books & her magazine “O” reaches over 2 million people each year. in 2006, Oprah held her Legends ball—the first of its kind—honoring African-American women, including Maya Angelou, Aretha Franklin, Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Toni Morrison & so many more, including women from all ethnicities, all inspirational for what they offer the world. & now her “Master Class” which includes topics from A to Z has broken barriers & continues to inspire in new ways we’ve never seen on TV.
the real take away from Oprah is not her fame, her money, her largess…to me, anyway. it is how she rose like a phoenix from the atrocities in her childhood & utilized her past to recreate herself anew, for the purpose of helping others. she isn’t hiding her story in the shadows, it’s right out there for all of us who can identify with so much of it. we know we can do so much more than “make it through.” we can thrive, achieve, succeed, struggle through our relative challenges & come out the other side incorporating the totality of all our experiences. I see them as our histories, that make each of us, indeed, who we really are. none of us are perfect, nope, not even Oprah herself…but like her, we can use our experiences to show empathy to others, show them they aren’t alone & so importantly, be inspirational ourselves, saying with our actions…anything IS truly possible! through aggressive effort, through love, through assertiveness, through not “guilting” or “shoulding” ourselves, but going after our deepest desires for our lives & being in our own corner! I think Oprah has lived that example – & I’m grateful for that aspect of her bigger-than-life icon status & the chance to look deeper into the person she actually is.