When the topic of influential, powerful, and society-changing women arises, particularly within the African American community, many people often cite Oprah as one of these women. Since the 1980’s she has left a sizable impact on the United States, Europe, and even in developing, third world countries. As a philanthropist, activist, former talk show host, and business mogul, she has definitely created what some may call her own empire. She has worked her way to the pinnacle of success. Being born into poverty and knowing the difficulties and struggle that comes with it, she has remained true to her roots and those less fortunate than herself.
Born to an unwed teenage mother on January 29, 1954, as a little girl, Oprah Winfrey could have never imagined the life she has created for herself today. She spent the first five years of her life on her grandmother’s farm in the small, rural town of Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her mother received financial and emotional support from her grandmother.
Her grandmother even acted as a teacher, and at age three Oprah was well versed in classic poems and the Bible. Despite the poverty stricken life she was born into, Oprah was cherished among her local church goers who labeled her as a gifted child.
She also enjoyed the loving support her grandmother provided. However, her world would soon drastically change for the worse. At age six, she was sent to Milwaukee along with her mother who was able to find work as a housekeeper. Oprah was confined to long days in their inner city apartment, and was frequently sexually harassed and molested by male relatives and other men whom her mother was dating. This torment and abuse had a major emotional impact on the young Oprah, and lasted from the age of nine until thirteen.
In the midst of this abuse, she had attempted to run away from home at the age of fourteen, and was sent to a juvenile detention center, only to be turned down because of overcrowding within the center. She had vowed to never return home. At the age of 15, she was completely independent from her mother and on her own. Oprah recalls being sexually promiscuous as a teenager and gave birth to a baby at the age of fifteen who died in early infancy. After this tragedy, she travelled to Nashville, Tennessee to live with her father, Vernon Winfrey. Luckily, Oprah’s father was able to provide a safety net for his daughter.
Vernon was strict, and made sure that he established a set curfew for his daughter. He required that she read plenty of books and wrote one essay per week. “As strict as he was,” says Oprah, “he had some concerns about me making the best of my life, and would not accept anything less than what he thought was my best. ” (Inspirational Women, 2008, ll. 8-9) Essentially, he saved her from a continued life of hardship and struggle. Her life would begin to finally change for the better. Thanks to her father’s disciplinarian method, Oprah thrived in high school and went on to win awards for oratory.
She even became a top honors student. At the age of 17, she entered and won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. Following her win, she was offered a job on the radio station WVOL, a station which catered to issues and news within the African American community in Nashville, Tennessee. Oprah went on to win a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She chose to major in Speech Communications and the Performing Arts. Since her broadcasting career had began to flourish, she chose to leave school and focus on pursuing her dream full time, signing a contract with a local television station as a news anchor and reporter.
In 1976, Baltimore television station WJZ-TV offered her a full time position as a co-anchor, so she relocated to accept their offer. Oprah went on to host her first talk show, People Are Talking. In addition to hosting her own show, she remained a reporter and co-anchor. Her outgoing, warm, and empathic personality was infectious. Oprah’s ratings soared. After 8 years of working with Baltimore television station WJZ-TV, she was recruited to Chicago to host a half hour show called AM Chicago, which was on the brink of failure and cancellation.
Within six months after Oprah’s appearance, AM Chicago was most popular morning television show in town. Because of rave reviews and above average ratings, the show was given an hour block instead of the original half hour. In September 1985, AM Chicago was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show. In 1986, The Oprah Winfrey Show was broadcast nationally. After its national broadcast, the show skyrocketed to the top of television rating and immediately became the number one talk show in the nation. Oprah has achieved much recognition for her work on national television. She won three aytime Emmy Awards for the following nomination categories: Outstanding Direction, Outstanding Talk/Service Program, and Outstanding Host. In addition to her three Emmy’s, Oprah went on to receive the award for “Broadcaster of the Year” on behalf of the International Radio and Television Society. She was the youngest person in history to receive this prestigious award. In 1985, Oprah starred in the film The Color Purple. Her role in this movie earned her multiple nominations for the Oscars and Golden Globe Awards. Since she was a child, Oprah has had a strong love of acting and film.
Her work on television and on the silver screen inspired her to fund her own production company, Harpo Productions, Inc. , founded in 1986. Presently, Harpo Productions continues to build a foundation in film and television production, as well as magazine and internet publishings. Since the early 1990’s, The Oprah Winfrey Show broke the mold for traditional talk shows. She began to emphasize spiritual values applicable to any religious group, healthy living tips and stories, and self-help for those falling upon difficult times, emotionally, financially, or physically.
By employing this different strategy, her show was different to any of its time and became more popular than ever before. Oprah’s show has also attracted viewers by featuring well known and loved celebrities. In 1993 she interview Michael Jackson, drawing over one hundred million viewers, making his interview the most watched in television history. Oprah was named one of the “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century” by Time magazine. In 1998, she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Winfrey has also used her television program to shed light on many authors, including her close friend, Maya Angelou. She even became the pioneer for a brand new idea on television. She began her own on-air book club in 1996 called the “Oprah Book Club. ” This club drew many more adoring fans and raised her ratings further. In addition to her televised book club, she has co-authored five books. In 2010, she announced that The Oprah Winfrey Show would be coming to a close, after 24 seasons. She eventually continued to establish her own television network, called OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network).
This network caters to mainly women, and provides educational programming. Oprah Winfrey’s success is not just accredited to television and film, however. She rallied a campaign to establish a national database of convicted child molesters and abusers, which was motivated by her own personal struggle with child abuse at a young age. She even testified in front of US Senate for a National Child Protection Act. In 1993, president Clinton signed this bill as the “Oprah Bill. ” Her national database is now fully established and running.
It is currently available to law enforcement officials and government to assure the protection of children in the United States. In addition to serving as an advocate for children’s safety in America, Oprah has been a long term supporter of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community. Talk shows before The Oprah Winfrey Show have been referred to as the tabloid talk show genre. Examples of these types of stereotypical shows which prey on highly criticized groups within society are Ricki Lake, The Jenny Jones Show, and The Jerry Springer Show.
Instead of pointing a finger to the LGBT community, Oprah stood up for them and shed light on the spreading stigma between AIDS and gays. During a show in 1988, on National Coming Out Day, Oprah encouraged members of the studio audience to stand up and announce that they were gay. The amount of support they received was outstanding. In addition to this, she took The Oprah Winfrey Show to West Virginia to interview with a gay man who had contracted the AIDS virus. The town in which he lived was living in fear, keeping their distance because of lack of knowledge about the disease and how it is spread.
She, on national television, scolded the town, accusing them of being God-fearing, and in return asked them where their Christian love and understanding was. She also went on to tape a show on gay marriage and equal rights in the late 1980’s. She regularly invites gay celebrities and public figures on her show. In 2003, Forbes magazine published its list of America’s billionaires in 2003. Oprah Winfrey was the first ever African American woman to become a billionaire. Her wealth and fame have also allowed her to give back to the world. She is extremely well know for her generous philanthropic contributions.
In 2004, she was the first African American to rank among the 50 most generous Americans. She remained in the top 50 category until 2011. Since her time on The Oprah Winfrey Show and until 2012, she has donated over 400 million dollars towards children and educational causes. Oprah has supplied about 500 scholarships to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Because of her generosity, Oprah received the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award at the 2002 Emmy Awards. She has established her own foundation, Oprah’s Angel Network. This charity provides grants to nonprofit organizations worldwide.
Oprah’s Angel Network has raised more than $80,000,000 to date. Oprah is well known for her help with Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005. She has raised over 11 million dollars for food, shelter, repairs, and other relief efforts. She even donated 10 million dollars to this disaster. Oprah has aided in the building and rebuilding of homes in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. In addition to her help in the United States, Winfrey has been of aid to South Africa. In 2004, she filmed a special episode of her show titled Oprah’s Christmas Kindness.
She and her crew travelled to South Africa to raise public awareness about the growing number of babies and children affected by HIV, AIDS, malnutrition, and general poverty. Her trip lasted for twenty one days, where she visited schools and homes in poverty stricken towns. She closed her trip by distributing Christmas presents to over 50,000 families. During her time period in South Africa, she inspired viewers to donate to Oprah’s Angel Network. Because of that show, people around the world donated over $7,000,000. After returning from her trip to South Africa, she was inspired to give back to the country in a huge way.
Winfrey invested 40 million dollars and helped to build the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg, South Africa. The school currently hold 450 students, and is built upon 22 acres. The school is home to computer and science laboratories, a library, theater, and even a beauty salon. She was praised by Nelson Mandela for all of her charitable work. Oprah Winfrey has managed to mold her life in such a way that she escaped a life or hardship and poverty. In a matter of ten years she was able to establish her own talk show, Even though Winfrey is one of the world’s wealthiest women, she has used her wealth in a positive way.
She has made incredibly generous donations to developing countries, funds her own school, contributes to colleges’ scholarship funds statewide, and is an avid advocate for children and the LGBT community and any hardships they may face. She has been publicly awarded and commended for her charitable donations to those in need. She remains a woman of great influence and will always serve as a positive role model to women, particularly within the African American community. Winfrey has amassed her own empire consisting of her own show, a production company, her own television network, and of course with her endless humanitarian work.
Cite this Oprah Winfrey as Influential, Powerful, and Society-Changing Women
Oprah Winfrey as Influential, Powerful, and Society-Changing Women. (2016, Oct 15). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/oprah-winfrey-as-influential-powerful-and-society-changing-women/