Few people are as globally recognized as Oprah Winfrey. In fact, she is one of those people who are instantly recognized by her first name alone. Many people know the famous side of Oprah. Her role as not only a talk show host, but producer, actress, author and media business woman. She was not only the wealthiest African American of the 20th century, but once the world’s only black billionaire. These items alone can inspire people to action. A “If she can do it, so can we.” sort of cheer. We are going to break down how many different people Oprah inspired and close with learning something very important about ourselves.
Many of us know the successful Oprah Winfrey, but how many of us know what she overcame to get there? I want to take just a little time to share some of the struggles she faced, how it can inspire us, and what it can teach us about our own story. Oprah was born on January 29th 1954 in rural Mississippi. This was not only a time of great challenge in our country for people of color, but that was amplified in the deep south. Her unwed, teenage mother soon moved north and left her in the care of her grandmother. This proves people can overcome societal prejudice and lack of the influence of a biological parent to become successful.
Oprah’s grandmother, Hattie Mae, was extremely poor. So poor, that at a young age, Oprah had to wear old potato sacks as clothing. Many of us find it hard to picture the fashionable Ms. Winfrey dressed in a potato sack, but that is how she began. The other children mocked her for her clothes. Her grandmother was also a strict disciplinarian, often whipping young Oprah. She was also told there was no room inside the house for her to sleep. She made her bed on an outside enclosed porch. This is proof that you can overcome extreme poverty, and being ostracized at a young age and still make a great life for yourself.
At the age of 6, her grandmother became ill and she was sent to live with her mother in Milwaukee. Her mother worked as a maid and did not have the energy to raise young Oprah. At the age of 8 she was sent to live with her father in Tennessee. Her third home in her very young life. While she was there she was sexually abused by family members, as well as a family friend. Things got so bad, she ran away from home at the age of 13. At the age of 14, she became pregnant. Her son was born prematurely and died only a few days later. This means that moving around from state to state and parent to parent does not prevent you from realizing your full potential. Suffering a terrible childhood trauma like sexual abuse by a family member does not make you less than. Oprah later used that to let others know she had suffered the same fate they had and was able to overcome. Not only having a child at a young age, but then having that child pass away could be enough to break anybody. Oprah is proof that you can draw strength from a challenge like that.
By the age of 17, Oprah was in a far better place. Not only winning the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant, but landing a job at a local black radio station doing the news part-time. Considering what she had come from, this would be a success for most people. Ms. Winfrey was not done, however. She also won an oratory contest. This secured a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She went on to study communications.
After television work in both Baltimore and Tennessee, Oprah found herself in Chicago. There are many good stories I am leaving out for the sake of brevity, I would invite you to investigate these on your own. Given a spot on a sinking ship of a show called AM Chicago, her passion and performance turned it into the station’s number 1 and flagship program. Soon, it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show and syndicated nationally, continuing her meteoric rise to fame. There is a story I would like to mention here as well. When the show was syndicated, Oprah rightfully received substantial financial compensation. Her staff, which was largely female, did not. Upon discovering this, Oprah went into the offices of management and demanded her staff receive the benefits of the financial windfall as well. Using her voice to be a voice for others.
Imagine being a young woman raised in the racist atmosphere of the times. Being brought up in terrible poverty. Moving at the young age of six to a mother who had no desire, or energy to raise you, and starting a new life. Only to have to move again a few years later to a father you have not known to this point in an entirely different state. Once there, suffering sexual abuse at the hands of those who are supposed to protect you. Running away from home at the age of 13, only to become pregnant and eventually lose a child only a year later. At the age of 14, Oprah had experienced many conditions that would cause the average person to give up.
Despite all that she had faced in the first decade and a half of her life, today she is hugely successful. She not only had the highest ranked talk show for 25 years, but has her own network, her own XM radio station, her own magazine, has built a school for under-privileged girls in South Africa, and even received an Academy Award nomination for her role in the movie A Color Purple. That means she gives hope to not only African Americans and women, but to those facing discrimination, those raised in poverty, those suffering sexual abuse, and even those who have lost a child. As impressive of a list as this is, there is one more group that Oprah inspires that I feel touches the people who read Secret2anamazinglife.
When Oprah was covering the news, she would often be overcome with emotion at the stories she was reporting on. This caused her to do such things as break into tears when reporting about a family who had lost their home in a fire. As you can imagine, the powers that be did not find this a redeeming quality. She was informed this ‘character flaw’ made her unfit to be a reporter and so she was relegated to doing a talk show. I think we can all agree she made the most of that opportunity. What this shows me is that when someone tells you that your gift is a character flaw, you can use that gift to serve and help others in a very meaningful way. It also shows us that being empathetic to others and their suffering is a gift that is greatly needed in the world today.
Lastly, I want to bring to your attention what this all means for our own life. We all have stories. We all have faced challenges. Most of us, not to the degree that Ms. Winfrey has. Some of us have faced even worse. I highlight a few of these cases in my book Living the Dream. Oprah shows us that we do not have to remain victims to what has happened to us, but we can overcome life’s challenges and use them to serve others. The greater the challenges we face, the more challenges we face, the better we are set up to inspire and serve others. Think about your own life and what you have faced. How could you use that to serve others? With that thought in mind, I would love to leave you with this great quote from Martin Luther King Jr.