WBW Honors: Oprah Winfrey

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A woman who believes “luck is preparation meeting opportunity,” Oprah Gail Winfrey has continuously shattered gender and racial barriers in America. Winfrey is the most successful talk show host in American TV history — male or female, Black or white — and the first female African-American billionaire. As one of the most influential women in the world, Winfrey continues to be a beacon that transcends racial and social barriers, much like Barack Obama. In 2006, Winfrey endorsed Obama for president, her first public political stance ever. She accompanied the Obamas on the campaign trail. But perhaps her greatest contribution to the ascendance of Barack Obama is how she prepared America for him through her show, as an African-American who won the hearts of women from all walks of life.

Winfrey was born on January 29, 1954 in Kosciusko, Mississippi to unwed teenage parents, Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey. Her parents sent her to live with her grandmother, where she learned to read by the age of three. Despite living in poverty, she excelled in school, later receiving a full-scholarship to Tennessee State University.

Winfrey’s career blossomed when she moved to Chicago in 1984 to host “AM Chicago,” a morning talk show at WLS-TV’s. It soon became the number one ranked talk show and was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” In 1988, she became the first African-American woman in the American entertainment industry to own her production company, Harpo Productions.

In addition to being a daytime TV pioneer, Winfrey is a generous philanthropist, often making significant contributions to those in need. She donated $10 million to help re-build the lives of Hurricane Katrina victims. Winfrey spent $40 million building the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. She personally selected all of the girls from low-income families to attend the boarding school.

Throughout her success, Winfrey has used her influence to bring about change on various platforms. In 2007, Winfrey held a fundraiser for Obama at her estate, and went on to rally in the early primary states: South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa.

Her show continues to attract an estimated 14 million viewers daily in the U.S. and millions more in 141 other countries throughout the world. Winfrey’s resilience continues to shine as she sets an example of excellence and perseverance. But most of all, she has become daily staple for women across America, women who saw in Oprah someone they trusted, someone who was in many ways just like them. In so doing, she lifted Obama to the presidency, both directly and symbolically.

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