Oprah Winfrey

by Kyra Kirkwood

“I remember thinking, my life won't be like this, it will be better. And it wasn't from a place of arrogance, it was just a place of knowing that things could be different for me somehow.”
Academy of Achievement <P>
Academy of Achievement


In 2003, Oprah became the first African-American woman to reach billionaire status, according to Forbes Magazine. She has broken through cultural, geographical and gender barriers, letting the world know it’s not your circumstances, but your heart, that determines how far you go in this world.

As Oprah’s wealth and influence have grown, so has her compassion. In 2000, Oprah's Angel Network began presenting a $100,000 "Use Your Life Award" to people who help improve the lives of others. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Oprah has donated more than $50 million to charity, including 50 local organizations such as the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Children's Memorial Hospital and the Chicago Academy of the Arts. After selling off some of her clothes, Oprah donated a box full of money—including a $1 million check—to Chicago’s Providence St. Mel School.

The Oprah Winfrey Foundation was established to support the inspiration, empowerment, education and well-being of women, children and families around the world. Oprah has contributed millions of dollars towards providing a better education for underserved students.

Oprah’s influence has spread far and wide. She has used her power and status to remind the world of the AIDS pandemic in South Africa; she has introduced new and old readers to numerous authors and hidden literary masterpieces; and she has inspired us with her openness and compassion and vision of a better world.

Some renowned people have paid tribute to Oprah on her birthday:

VIVICA A. FOX "Oprah's imprint on the world for her first 50 years has been nothing short of amazing! She has redefined how the world sees women, business, billionaires, executives and actors -- while being a good citizen, caretaker and friend to the world. Wow, Oprah, what will you do for your next 50 years?''

THE REV. JESSE JACKSON "She is as original to America as jazz. She might be ... the best composite of the best in the global family. ... She's handled success with grace and dignity. She has been mindful of people who represent the suffering that she has been through ... She goes from the most humble people to the most celebrated without breaking her rhythm."

JOHN TRAVOLTA "Oprah Winfrey is not only a great friend; more importantly, she's a great friend to many people who truly need a friend. One of the reasons she's such a great friend is because she listens. And thanks to her show, Oprah has taught the world how to listen and to face some of the most important issues of our time."

CHICAGO MAYOR DALEY "Oprah Winfrey is quite possibly the most successful woman we've seen in the last century. She is extremely disciplined and hardworking and has a natural ability to draw people to her.''

Oprah: one name, so many associations. One woman, so many accomplishments.

Oprah's website,<P>
Oprah's website,


This powerful daytime talk-show host has come a long way from her humble roots that began Jan. 29, 1954, in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Raised by her grandmother on a farm, Oprah learned to read and love books at an early age. By six, she was living with her mother and suffered from physical and mental abuse. Oprah ran away at 13, only to be turned away from a juvenile detention home and sent to live with her ultra-strict father in Nashville.

This early trauma gave Oprah the tools and the strength to become great. In an interview on the Academy of Achievement website, Oprah said about her recovery as an abuse survivor:

“And, you know, part of the process for me as an adult has been recognizing that my inability as an adult female to say ‘No,’ my disease to please as a female, is the same thing that caused me to be victimized as a child. Because many times, I would get myself into situations as an adult where I didn't want to say ‘No’ because I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. I didn't want to say ‘No’ because I didn't want anybody angry with me.”

By age 19, Oprah was hired by WTVF-TV in Nashville as a reporter/anchor, and later found her calling in a talk show called "People Are Talking." In January 1984, she came to Chicago to host WLS-TV's "AM Chicago," a faltering local talk show. In less than a year, she turned it into the hottest program in town, which was soon renamed "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

For 20 years, this Emmy Award-winning daytime talk show has inspired, educated and enlightened millions of people. “America’s icon of joy,” as ABC TV named her, has remained true to the highest ideals of humanity, of nourishing the spirit.

Her love of theater and acting sparked her to form her own production company, HARPO Entertainment Group. Oprah also co-founded Oxygen Media, which includes the Oxygen Network, a women's cable network. In September 2002, Oprah debuted Oxygen’s “Oprah After The Show,” a spontaneous, unscripted, daily half-hour program taped after her daily talk show.

In 1991, this abuse survivor initiated a campaign to establish a national database of convicted child abusers. Then-President Clinton signed the "Oprah Bill" into law in 1993. In the aforementioned interview, Oprah stated:

“A part of my mission in life now is to encourage every other child who has been abused to tell. You tell, and if they don't believe you, you keep telling. You tell everybody until somebody listens to you…I don't want another child to be afraid of saying, ‘This is what happened to me’.”

Oprah's Angel Network, (
Oprah's Angel Network, (

In the late 1990s, Oprah became a big player in the literary industry with her “Oprah’s Book Club.” Any book she chose became an overnight best-seller. She also began her own magazine, O, The Oprah Magazine, where readers can find more of the same inspirational, go-get’em tales and down-deep celebrity interviews as seen on her show.

But during Christmas 2002, her life changed when she traveled to South Africa to bring holiday cheer to the children. She calls those 21 days some of the most miraculous of her life.

“I realized in those moments why I was born, why I am not married and do not have children of my own. These are my children. I made a decision to be a voice for those children, to empower them, to help educate them, so the spirit that burns alive inside each of them does not die," she said.

With the help of Nelson Mandela, Oprah launched ChristmasKindness, giving the children of South Africa one day of pure joy, toys and hope, just as she received as a 12-year-old on welfare.

In two provinces, over 12 days, thousands of rural South African children from 63 schools joined Oprah and her team of friends and volunteers. Tents went up, music played, everyone danced, food was passed out, and backpacks filled with clothes, toys, books and school supplies were distributed to all. Giving these gifts ”...this Christmas in South Africa, my life was sweetened 50,000 times over,” Oprah said.

On her website, Oprah encourages others to take one small step to make a difference in the lives of these children.

"For as long as I have a voice in this world, my promise to children who have no voice is that they will be seen, they will be heard — because they matter,” she said. “The ChristmasKindness project was created and financed through my private foundation, The Oprah Winfrey Foundation. Now, through our Angel Network which is my public charity—your charity—you also have the opportunity to contribute to our mission to support, educate and uplift children whose lives are devastated by AIDS. It is my promise to you that your money will be spent to make a difference in a life that needs it."

Oprah's Angel Network,
Oprah's Angel Network,

Oprah has also created the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. The school will teach girls to be the best human beings they can be, training them to become decisionmakers and leaders, allowing them to explore the changing world through advanced education techniques and advanced technology, including a telecommunications system. The latter will allow Oprah to teach from Chicago. South African teachers and administrators will be selected from the best and the brightest of South Africa's educators. The Oprah Winfrey Foundation will contribute $10 million to build and maintain the academy with additional funding to come from the Guateng Department of Education.

"Education is the way to move mountains, to build bridges, to change the world,” she said. “Education is the path to the future. I believe that education is indeed freedom. With God's help, these girls will be the future leaders on the path to peace in South Africa and the world."

Oprah believes so firmly in education that, in 1999, she became an adjunct professor at The J.L. Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, co-teaching "Dynamics of Leadership."

From the kitchens of Kentucky to the movie studios of Hollywood, the villages of South Africa to the high-rises of Manhattan, people everywhere have been affected by Oprah and her life.

Page created on 7/29/2014 10:05:10 AM

Last edited 1/28/2020 7:57:51 AM

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Related Links

Academy of Achievement - Read an interview with Oprah Winfrey. The Academy of Achievement brings students face-to-face with the extraordinary leaders, thinkers and pioneers who have shaped our world.

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Haz clic aquí para leer la historia sobre Oprah Winfrey en español

Click here to listen to the Oprah Winfrey story

On May 20, 2007 The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity honored Oprah Winfrey with its Humanitarian Award. The award was "created to recognize outstanding individuals who dedicate their time to fighting indifference, intolerance and injustice and whose accomplishments are consistent with the goals of the Foundation." (