Many Americans know the name Oprah Winfrey, or just, “Oprah.” Her name has become synonymous with daytime television. On top of her fame from her well-known daytime talk show, she has become known for her generosity, positivity, and humanitarianism. But she didn’t start there, nor did she come from wealth. She put in the effort, worked long hours, and competed for what she earned.
But seemingly none of that ever got her down. She has never been afraid of failure or facing issues. In the past, she has said of her success and how she’s overcome failure that it’s all due to the mindset of “[Thinking] like a queen. A queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is another stepping stone to greatness.” Understandably, her hard work earned her the title, “The Queen of All Media.”
Opra Winfrey’s First Steps
Oprah was born January 29, 1954 under the name “Orpah.” She was born in rural Mississippi and her parents didn’t stay together after Oprah’s birth. She was raised closely by almost every member of her immediate and sometimes even extended family. She got her name from the biblical figure, Orpah, but everyone would mispronounce it “Oprah” and the name stuck.
Oprah Winfrey grew up extremely poor and wore dresses made from potato sacks, for which she would get teased. Sadly, she also experienced sexual abuse from several of her male relatives and friends of her mother. But her grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, knew, despite these events, Oprah was destined for something big. Hattie tells stories of young Oprah hosting “interviews” with her dolls and the birds that would land on their back fence.
Oprah moved from place to place and sometimes would bounce from one parent to the other when money was tight. She attended Lincoln High School, a school on the poorer side of Milwaukee. But, as a result of her academic achievements, she transferred to Nicolet High School, a school in a more affluent part of town.
As she rode the bus to school with her friends, she thought about the fact that many of the families of her friends were servants in the households of her classmates. Oprah felt like she had to “keep up” with her classmates and would rebel or steal money from her mother to fit in with them. As a result, her mother sent her once again to live with her father in Nashville, TN. This set her back a little in her studies, but Oprah still graduated as an honors student, and earned the title“Most Popular Girl” by her classmates. Oprah, similar to her sentiments earlier, has said when speaking about her life, “I will tell you that there have been no failures in my life. I don’t want to sound like some metaphysical queen, but there have been no failures. There have been some tremendous lessons.”
Enjoying the Process
After high school, Oprah worked for a local radio station. However, she was only hired part-time to read the news. She then applied to and won an oratory contest which landed her a full scholarship to Tennessee State University where she studied communications. Over the next few years, Winfrey worked as a news anchor for several different stations. In 1976 though, Oprah moved to Baltimore and hosted the show, “People Are Talking.” The show started off small but quickly became a hit, and she hosted that for about eight years.
Then, in 1984, she relocated to Chicago and was given the job of taking over the hosting position of a small, half-hour program called “AM Chicago.” The show was at the bottom of the ratings and had to compete with the very popular talk show, “The Phil Donahue Show.” It wasn’t easy competing with that, and Oprah Winfrey faced many obstacles trying to bring in viewership for her show.
But again, that didn’t get her down. When she looked back, Oprah said, in her characteristic upbeat attitude about the topic, “I don’t believe in failure. It’s not failure if you enjoy the process.” Within a couple of years, she was able to pull the ratings steadily up, eventually to where they soared over those of Phil Donahue and landed her the #1 spot on the ratings chart. Oprah was invited to extend the length of her program to a full hour, and it was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
You Get an Interview! And You Get an Interview!
On her show, she interviewed different types of people from all walks of life and talked about their lives: the good, the bad, and (sometimes) the ugly. During her interviews, she spoke with her guests and, what became known as “public confessional,” allow people to talk about things that could be a little gritty and hard for audiences to hear. She even opened up about her own abuse that she suffered growing up on her show. But that didn’t cause any problems; in fact, her popularity took off.
She hosted her show with such energy that she was able to interview such people as Michael Jackson; David Letterman, of “Late Show” fame; and other big names like Kanye West and Barrack Obama. From there, Oprah became a household name.
The fame Oprah amounted hasn’t made her any less generous. Pretty much anything that Oprah sticks her name to becomes an overnight success. Since 1996, she has curated a list of books ranging from classic literature to a whole host of self-improvement books so that she could share her love of reading with others. Any of the books that have appeared on Oprah’s Book Club list, whether they were well-known classic books or modestly selling books, would shoot to the tops of bestselling lists soon after being placed on her Book Club list. She also regularly made lists of items that she thought would be good gifts and air the segment on her show. Everyone that was present for the taping would receive that year’s list of items for free.
Oprah has been the head of many other charitable and philanthropic endeavors. In 1987, she founded the Oprah Winfrey Foundation which has gone on to champion change and service to many across the world. Through her giving, she has donated over $400 million to various causes, provided funding for education, and served over 75 million meals to those less fortunate. Her intention is to make an important difference in people’s lives, people living lives similar to how she grew up.
Feeding the Hungry
Money was tight for her family growing up and food even more so. As a result, Oprah regularly donates to non-profit organizations aimed at providing food to those that need it, as she has seen the impact hunger has on people’s lives. The largest one to date was ten million dollars, while in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Education for Youth
Oprah is deeply committed to education for the youth. She has funded numerous scholarships, schools, college programs, and even started her own school, The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Oprah’s school is for girls in grades eight through twelth, and the school funds everything the girls need, including uniforms for those who can’t afford the clothing and braces for those that need them. Oprah has also paid for the educations of over 70,000 people who may not have otherwise been able to receive that opportunity, many of them from poorer countries outside the United States.
With all that Oprah has done, she has not only shown what is possible through hard work, but also what is possible with a positive attitude and mindset. Oprah’s story proves that when you put yourself into what you love, good things can come from it. She is just one of the many stories that show the American Dream is alive and well in this country.