Oprah Gail Winfrey (born January 29, 1954) is an American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. Oprah was born to an unmarried teenage mother after a single sexual act. After Winfrey’s birth, her mother traveled north and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae (Presley) Lee who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local children made fun of her. Oprah Winfrey lived the first few years of her life in dire poverty. As her mother was working, she spent her initial years with her grandmother, who taught her to read and write. As her mother gave birth to another child, Oprah was sent to live with her biological father Vernon Winfrey. During her stay with her father, Oprah was constantly subject to sexual molestation at the hands of her cousin, uncle and family friend. She also survived a cruel rape at the tender of nine. When she could not bear it any further, she ran away. At the young age of 14, she became pregnant due to the sexual abuse and her son died soon after birth. Vernon was strict, but encouraging, and made her education a priority. Winfrey became an honors student, was voted Most Popular Girl, and joined her high school speech team. She won an oratory contest, which secured her a full scholarship to Tenessee State University where she studied communication. Her first job as a teenager was working at a local grocery store.At the age of 17, Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. She worked there during her senior year of high school, and again while in her first two years of college.She did not give up on life. She refused to accept things as they were and vowed to decide the course of her own life. She started working at a radio station while in college and after graduation; she started hosting a low-rated talk show in Chicago. Within weeks, the show climbed the ladder and was placed as the highest-rated talk show. Her talent did not go unnoticed-she signed a deal with King World and The Oprah Winfrey Show was born in 1986. Since then, there has been no looking back. Today, Oprah has a net worth of about $3 billion. She has conceived an intimate form of media communication. With a 2000 net worth of $800 million, Winfrey is believed to be the richest African American of the 20th century. Owing to her status as a historical figure, Professor Juliet E.K. Walker of the University of Illinios created the course “History 298: Oprah Winfrey, the Tycoon.” Forbes’ international rich list has listed Winfrey as the world’s only black billionaire from 2004 to 2006 and as the first black woman billionaire in world history. Renowned people have opened up about their feelings and thoughts on her couch. She has co-authored five books. She has overcome poverty, survived abuse and made a distinct place for herself in the world of media by revolutionizing it. Why? This is because she has lived on her own terms and refused to act according to judgment of others. She sincerely holds- “The great courageous act that we must all do, is to have the courage to step out of our history and past so that we can live our dreams.” In Oprah’s words, she was able to defeat adverse circumstances and live through the trauma, as she believed in a ‘power greater than herself.’ In fact, she strongly believes that the horrific experiences during her childhood made her realize the need to be sensitive towards people. She channeled this realization to completely change the way people look at talk shows. She has created what people call ‘rapport talk’, where people share intimate details of their life as a form of therapy. It is argued by many that she has more influence on public opinion than most political or religious leaders. This power of hers has been named the ‘Oprah Effect’. She has been voted one of the greatest Americans in various polls. At the end of the 20th century Life listed Winfrey as both the most influential woman and the most influential black person of her generation, and in a cover-story profile the magazine called her “America’s most powerful woman“. Being a victim of cruel sexual abuse and poverty, she could have easily conceded defeat at the hands of adversity. Rather, she decided to move on and be responsible for her own life. She evolved into the person she intended to be only by changing her attitude towards life. Today she is a legend. Oprah is an inspiration for thousands of women who face harassment and torture in life. Women who are marred by circumstances have the perfect role model in Oprah. We should never surrender before the hardships in life, but rise above such situations and take the reins of our lives in our hands. Who knows, by helping ourselves, we may be able to help others. And as she says, ” Turn your wounds into wisdom’‘.
About the Author: This article is contributed by Kudrat Agrawal, our Intern.