Since profiling her for an 8th-grade social studies project during the late ‘90s at the height of her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, I have been intrigued and inspired by Oprah Winfrey (do I even need to use her last name?!). I have never really been a talk show viewer, and I think I only ever really saw her show a handful of times, yet still her power and presence somehow resonate with me. Perhaps it has something to do with the warmth and intimacy she radiates so effortlessly.
So, without further ado, I am pleased to share with you a bit about how this media mogul, talk show host, network owner, philanthropist, producer, actress, author, inspiration, and downright legend uses her success to empower girls and women around the world. A true proponent for women’s empowerment!
Dubbed the “Queen of All Media,” through hard work and determination, Oprah left behind the poverty and pain of her childhood to become a billionaire, and not just any billionaire – the first black woman billionaire in world history and one of the most influential people in the world. So influential that the term “The Oprah Effect” was coined in reference to the power of her opinions and endorsements to influence people, in particular, consumer purchasing choices – think The Oprah Book Club, which shot any book lucky enough to be included to a top-seller in minutes!
Born in rural Mississippi to a teenage single mother in a poor urban neighborhood and later raised in the inner city of Milwaukee, Oprah did not have an easy upbringing by any means. She was molested by family members during her childhood and early teens and became pregnant at 14 with a son who was born prematurely and died shortly after coming into the world. Her struggles fueled her fire as she persevered after being sent by her mother, who could no longer manage her, to live with the man she calls her father, a stern yet encouraging barber in Nashville, TN.
While in high school in Nashville, Oprah landed a job in radio and, at the age of 19, began co-anchoring the local evening news. A natural entertainer, Oprah moved from news to the daytime talk show arena, and at 29, she moved to Chicago, where she boosted the city’s lowest-rated talk show, AM Chicago, to first place. A born entrepreneur, she negotiated ownership rights to the program, renamed it The Oprah Winfrey Show, launched her own production company, Harpo Productions, and at the age of 32, became a millionaire when the show received national syndication.
The Oprah Winfrey Show was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. Through the intimate confessional setting of her talk show, Oprah has been credited with popularizing and revolutionizing the tabloid talk show genre. A defining moment of the power of her platform took place in 1993 when she hosted a rare prime-time interview with Michael Jackson, which became the fourth most-watched event in American television history and the most-watched interview ever, with an audience of 36.5 million!
By the mid-1990s, Oprah reinvented her show, abandoning the traditional talk-show fare for more enriching content such as literature, self-improvement, and spirituality. And the power of her voice continued to grow, so much so that in 2002 Christianity Today published an article called “The Church of O”, in which they wrote that Oprah had emerged as an influential spiritual leader, stating, “Since 1994, when she abandoned traditional talk-show fare for more edifying content, and 1998 when she began ‘Change Your Life TV’, Oprah’s most significant role has become that of a spiritual leader. To her audience of more than 22 million mostly female viewers, she has become a postmodern priestess—an icon of church-free spirituality.”
Fame, wealth, and a loyal following combined with her belief “that education is the most important gift you could ever give to anyone” led Oprah to her support of several women empowerment organizations aimed at improving the quality of life for women and helping to boost their confidence. Two of these organizations are Women for Women International, a group that supports the financial, educational, and interpersonal needs of women survivors of war, poverty and injustice, and Girl Effect, a movement working to end poverty in adolescent women by building confidence, empowering them and providing access to education and services. But perhaps her most well-known women empowerment endeavor is her Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, a world-class school for girls in South Africa for grades 7 through 12 built in 2007 with the hope that the students who finish their studies there will continue their educational paths and eventually transform their communities and countries.
Oprah’s dream to build her school began with her love and respect for Nelson Mandela, a man who spent 27 years in prison and became the first freely elected President of South Africa. “He is a great citizen of the world. I was humbled by his humility.”
She explains, “It started with our conversation in 2000 about how I wanted to do something for the girls of South Africa. I wanted to give back to the girls what I had been given. Before long, that idea became my most cherished dream—a school for smart girls with the mind power but not the means or privilege of an education. I wanted to create a “leadership academy” because I feel strongly that women’s leadership can reshape the world.
When you educate a girl, you change the trajectory of her life. And not just her life. You start to affect her family, her community, and her nation. When you educate a girl, that girl becomes a woman who understands the value of an education and educates her children.”
This past Spring, ten of The Academy’s girls graduated from some of the best colleges in the US – an accomplishment Oprah holds dear to her heart.
“I have the ultimate satisfaction; I have the ultimate reward that I did exactly what I wanted to do,” says Oprah. “I wanted to change the lives of these girls at my school. I have been graced with living long enough to see them fulfill the potential that I saw in them when they were 11 and 12 years old.”
“I have watched them as little girls, literally, blossom into these flourishing young women that are just so dynamic. They’re going to change what happens in their country and in the world.”
Oprah also spreads her messages about women’s empowerment through her Hearst Communications publication, O, The Oprah Magazine, available in print and online. And she is always on the cover!
In 2006 Oprah dipped her toe into the political arena as an avid supporter of Barack Obama, and the power of her voice once again reigned, with one estimate claiming her support of the then-presidential candidate delivered over a million votes in the close 2008 Democratic primary race.
In 2013, she was awarded the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, and she continued her support for the President throughout his term with collaborations such as the “United State of Women” conference in 2016, where First Lady Michelle Obama, a fellow women empowerment leader, and education advocate, and Oprah conversed about women’s empowerment.
We certainly couldn’t post an article about Oprah without mentioning her real estate, in particular her current home, “The Promised Land”, a spectacular 42-acre Montecito, California estate with sprawling ocean and mountain views designed with an abundance of luxury furniture and elegant décor by Rose Tarlow, the Los Angeles-based interior designer to the stars. Oprah also owns a house in New Jersey; an apartment in Chicago; an estate on Fisher Island, Florida; a ski house in Telluride, Colorado; and property on Maui, Hawaii, and Antigua.
A powerful woman with quite a resume, to say the least, so what’s next? This Fall, Oprah is expected to join 60 Minutes as a special contributor on the Sunday evening news program – we look forward to seeing her on there and seeing whatever else she has in store – I am sure there is plenty!
Words of Wisdom by Oprah Winfrey:
“Your life is big. Your life is huge, and we spend so much time wanting to be in somebody else’s life, and you don’t get honored, you don’t get revered, you don’t get celebrated wanting what somebody else has.”
“The reason I’ve been able to be so financially successful is my focus has never, ever for one minute been money.”
“Breathe. Let go. And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.”
“Think like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.”
“Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”
“Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
Thank you, Oprah, for all that you do for women empowerment!
With love, KOKET
Check out last week’s empowering woman, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg!