Oprah Winfrey as Influential, Powerful, and Society-Changing Women

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Oprah is a highly regarded figure in the African American community, recognized for her immense influence, power, and ability to effect societal change. Her impact has been felt across the United States, Europe, and developing third world countries since the 1980s. She is renowned for her philanthropy, activism, former role as a talk show host, and accomplishments as a successful businesswoman who created her own empire. Despite being born into poverty and facing its hardships, Oprah remains grounded and committed to assisting those who are less fortunate.

Oprah Winfrey was born in the small town of Kosciusko, Mississippi on January 29, 1954 to an unmarried teenager. Her humble beginnings played a significant role in shaping her into the successful person she is today. For the first five years of her life, she lived on her grandmother’s farm where her mother received both financial and emotional support. It was during this time that Oprah’s education began under the guidance of her grandmother, who introduced classic poems and teachings from the Bible when Oprah was only three years old. Despite growing up in poverty, members of her local church recognized Oprah’s talents as a child.

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Despite the love and support she received from her grandmother, her life took a negative turn. At six years old, she had to relocate to Milwaukee with her mother, who found employment as a housekeeper. They resided in an urban apartment where Oprah endured confinement and experienced sexual harassment and molestation from male relatives and her mother’s boyfriends. This ongoing abuse had a profound emotional impact on Oprah and persisted from ages nine to thirteen.

At the age of fourteen, she tried to escape her abusive home but couldn’t go to a juvenile detention center because it was too crowded. Determined not to return home, she made a promise to herself that she would become independent from her mother by fifteen. Oprah openly describes her teenage years as characterized by sexual promiscuity, leading to pregnancy at fifteen. Sadly, the baby died shortly after birth. After this tragic event, she found solace in Nashville, Tennessee where she lived with her father, Vernon Winfrey. Thankfully, her father provided the much-needed support during this difficult time.

Despite imposing a strict curfew and demanding extensive reading and weekly essay writing from his daughter, Vernon’s actions were driven by genuine concern for Oprah’s well-being. She acknowledges that her father’s discipline was ultimately beneficial, as it prevented her from experiencing a challenging life and prompted positive transformations. As a result of this rigorous approach, Oprah thrived academically in high school, even earning accolades for her exceptional public speaking abilities.

She excelled academically and, at 17 years old, emerged victorious in the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. Subsequently, she received an employment offer from Nashville’s WVOL radio station, where her work revolved around issues affecting the African American community. Later on, she was granted a comprehensive scholarship to Tennessee State University for studies in Speech Communications and Performing Arts. Despite achieving success in broadcasting, she made the decision to abandon her education and wholeheartedly chase after her aspirations. Consequently, she entered into a contractual agreement with a nearby television station as both a news anchor and reporter.

Oprah moved to Baltimore in 1976 and worked as a co-anchor at television station WJZ-TV. She also hosted the popular talk show People Are Talking during this period, gaining fame for her warm and understanding personality. After spending 8 years at WJZ-TV, Oprah was offered the opportunity to host AM Chicago in Chicago, a show that was facing potential cancellation.

Within six months of Oprah’s appearance on AM Chicago, the show became the most popular morning television show in town. The show’s success led to its expansion from a half-hour to a one-hour block and it was rebranded as The Oprah Winfrey Show in September 1985. Just one year later, in 1986, it began airing nationwide and quickly rose to become the number one talk show in the nation, dominating television ratings. This national exposure brought Oprah significant recognition and success on a larger scale, resulting in her winning three Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Talk/Service Program, and Outstanding Host.

In addition to her achievements as a TV host, Oprah also showcased her acting talents in 1985 with her role in The Color Purple film. Her performance earned numerous nominations for both Oscars and Golden Globe Awards. Acting has been a lifelong passion for Oprah since her early years.

Moreover, she received the esteemed “Broadcaster of the Year” award from the International Radio and Television Society – an honor typically given to older individuals – making her the youngest person ever recognized with this distinction.

Oprah Winfrey established Harpo Productions, Inc., her personal production company, in 1986. The establishment of this company was motivated by her contributions to the television and film industry. Presently, Harpo Productions is dedicated to creating movies and TV shows while also distributing content through magazines and online platforms. Starting from the 1990s, The Oprah Winfrey Show transformed talk shows by prioritizing universal spiritual principles, promoting a well-balanced lifestyle, and showcasing stories of personal development for individuals grappling with emotional, financial, or physical obstacles.

Oprah’s show garnered widespread appeal and captivated audiences with its distinct style, featuring renowned celebrities. In 1993, her interview with Michael Jackson drew an unprecedented audience of over one hundred million viewers, establishing it as the most-watched television interview ever. Time magazine acknowledged Oprah as one of the “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century.” Additionally, in 1998, she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Oprah Winfrey has used her television show to support various authors, including Maya Angelou who is a close friend of hers, and she also introduced an innovative concept on TV. In 1996, she started the “Oprah Book Club” during her program, which attracted a large audience and improved her ratings. Furthermore, Winfrey has co-authored five books with others and in 2010 announced the end of The Oprah Winfrey Show after airing for 24 seasons. Subsequently, she established OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network), her own television network.

The network’s primary focus is on serving women and providing educational programming. Oprah Winfrey has achieved success in multiple areas, going beyond television and film. She took the lead in launching a campaign to create a nationwide database comprising convicted child molesters and abusers, driven by her personal experience of childhood abuse. In addition, she testified before the US Senate advocating for the passage of the National Child Protection Act, which was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993 as “Oprah Bill.” Currently, her national database is fully functional.

Law enforcement officials and government currently have the means to protect children in the United States. Additionally, Oprah has been a long-standing champion of child safety in America and a supporter of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. Before The Oprah Winfrey Show, talk shows like Ricki Lake, The Jenny Jones Show, and The Jerry Springer Show were considered tabloid talk shows that exploit marginalized groups in society, leading to criticism.

Oprah defended and raised awareness about the growing stigma of associating AIDS with homosexuality, instead of blaming the LGBT community. On National Coming Out Day in 1988, she asked members of her studio audience to publicly declare their homosexuality, receiving immense support. Furthermore, Oprah took The Oprah Winfrey Show to West Virginia to interview a gay man who had contracted the AIDS virus. The town he lived in was gripped by fear and kept their distance due to their limited understanding of the illness and its transmission.

On national television, she scolded the town, accusing them of being God-fearing, and asking them where their Christian love and understanding was. She also taped a show on gay marriage and equal rights in the late 1980’s, regularly inviting gay celebrities and public figures. In 2003, Forbes magazine published its list of America’s billionaires and Oprah Winfrey became the first African American woman to join this exclusive club. Her wealth and fame have also enabled her to make significant philanthropic contributions, earning her widespread recognition for her generosity.

In 2004, Oprah Winfrey became the first African American to be listed among the 50 most generous Americans. She maintained her position in this category until 2011. From her time on The Oprah Winfrey Show until 2012, she has contributed over 400 million dollars to support children and educational causes. Furthermore, Oprah has awarded around 500 scholarships to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. As a result of her incredible philanthropy, Oprah was honored with the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2002 Emmy Awards. In addition, she has established her own charitable organization called Oprah’s Angel Network, which offers grants to nonprofit organizations around the world.

Oprah’s Angel Network has raised more than $80,000,000 thus far. One notable contribution was aiding the victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, surpassing $11 million in funds that provided essential supplies including food, lodging, repairs, and other forms of relief. It is important to note that Oprah herself generously donated $10 million towards this disaster. Additionally, Oprah actively participated in constructing and restoring homes across Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. Her philanthropic efforts extend beyond the United States as she also rendered assistance to South Africa. In 2004, she filmed a special episode of her show entitled Oprah’s Christmas Kindness.

Oprah and her team traveled to South Africa for a twenty-one day trip. The purpose of the trip was to bring attention to the growing number of babies and children affected by HIV, AIDS, malnutrition, and poverty. Throughout her visit, Oprah visited schools and homes in impoverished towns. In a grand finale, she distributed Christmas gifts to over 50,000 families. Her presence in South Africa inspired viewers to donate to Oprah’s Angel Network, resulting in worldwide contributions surpassing $7 million. Upon returning from South Africa, she felt compelled to make a significant contribution to the country.

Oprah Winfrey donated $40 million to create the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg, South Africa. The academy is situated on a 22-acre plot and presently accommodates 450 students. It includes computer and science labs, a library, theater, and even a beauty salon. Nelson Mandela praised Winfrey for her charitable efforts. Despite encountering obstacles and poverty, she has attained remarkable achievements. Within just a decade, she established her own talk show. Despite being among the wealthiest women worldwide, Winfrey employs her riches for altruistic purposes.

Oprah Winfrey has made substantial donations to developing nations and financially supports her own educational institution. Additionally, she contributes to scholarship funds at various colleges in the state and advocates passionately for the well-being of children and the LGBTQ+ community, as well as their struggles. Her philanthropic contributions have garnered public recognition and praise. She remains a highly influential figure and a source of inspiration for women, particularly within the African American community. Winfrey has established an empire that includes her own talk show, production company, television network, and tireless humanitarian efforts.

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Oprah Winfrey as Influential, Powerful, and Society-Changing Women. (2016, Oct 15). Retrieved from


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