She was born into severe poverty to an unwed, little educated teenage mother.
She grew up in her grandmother’s primitive home, which has no electricity, water or plumbing. It was here that little Oprah learned to read and recite bible verses by the age of 3, and in church each Sunday, little Oprah absorbed biblical stories and began to dream big possibilities for herself. Do you know what little Oprah dreamed about?
Well, her grandmother Hattie Mae, was a black maid and Little Oprah dreamed that she too will become a maid, but hopefully for people who would treat her with some dignity and respect.
The seeds of greatness began to shine show early in the life of little Oprah. She talked her way out of kindergarten after just 2 days. Winfrey wrote a letter to her teacher that read:
“I don’t think I belong here ’cause I know a lot of big words.” And she skipped to the first grade.
But alas, life was about to take a terrible turn for little Oprah.
Her little bubble was burst when her grandmother returned her to Vernita – her teenage mother. With different men, her mother had a daughter Pat when Oprah was 5, a son Jeffrey when Oprah was 6 and it later when Oprah was 9, Vernita had another daughter secretly put up for adoption.
Imagine what sort of life little Oprah had, but that is not the worst of it.
While Vernita her mother was away for long hours cleaning homes, little Oprah starting at the age of 9 was molested and sexually abused by male relatives and others, and she was raped. This little girl tried to run away, but where will she go? Even the home for girls in need had no bed for her.
She became pregnant at 14 and gave birth prematurely to a baby boy, who died in infancy.
Oprah became a troubled child and in exasperation, she was sent to her father who was a barber and also uneducated.
But this was the break that Oprah needed and it seemed life was about to smile on her. The healing of her deep pains started with her father who loved her, made her feel safe for once, and built her self-esteem.
Even though he was uneducated, he understood the value of education and made Oprah read a book each week and even write a book report for him every week. He also encouraged her to excel in school which earned her a scholarship to Tennessee State University.
And gradually a new hope and a new dream began to form in Oprah’s mind. She started to see herself as a Television star and began taking steps to make that dream a reality.
While in high school, Oprah won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty contest and with that visibility and her charm, at 17 she got an on-air radio job with a local black radio station doing the news part-time. In 1976, at 22 she was recruited to co-anchor the 6 pm news at WJZ-TV in Baltimore.
This was her first real job, but life had another ugly surprise for her.
Seven and a half months into her new dream job, Winfrey was fired and reportedly told by a producer she was “unfit for television news.” WJZ also said that she was dull and stiff on the air and noted she regularly mispronounced words.
I had no idea what I was in for or that this was going to be the greatest growing period of my adult life,” Winfrey later said. “It shook me to my very core.” “At the time, I was devastated, devastated!”
Fortunately, instead of completely chasing Oprah out on the street, WJZ looked for something else she could do. They had a failing talk show, “People Are Talking” and with nothing to lose, they stuck her there on August 14th, 1978.
This was the beginning of the rise for Oprah as she finally found her true calling which metamorphosed into the Oprah Winfrey Show.
She grew rapidly into a global phenomenon that attracted millions of viewers each day for over 25 years it was air.
Today, Winfrey Oprah is worth a whopping $3 Billion dollars and was once the richest black woman on earth. But more importantly, Oprah turned her heartbreaking experiences into a force for good that has helped millions of abused young women all over the world to heal.
She also opened a school to provide educational and leadership opportunities for academically gifted girls from impoverished backgrounds in South Africa who exhibited leadership qualities for making a difference in the world. Winfrey Oprah sees these girls as her daughters.
There are lots of great lessons from the incredible life of Oprah Winfrey and I hope to let you see a few important ones.
1) Life can be cruel and most of us had a terrible beginning. But your tomorrow can be better that your today. Do not let the past or present condition, stop you from dreaming of a better and beautiful tomorrow.
2) Parents, no matter how poor you are, protect your kids with every fiber in your being. You are their physical guardian angel and their first line of defense against all kinds of wickedness in this world.
3) Never give up on your dreams, and don’t just dream, take concrete steps to make your dream a reality. Educate yourself, learn skills, focus on your vision and do whatever it takes to move your dreams closer to reality. Life has a way of assisting those who show determination towards their goal.
4) Do not focus on how you have been victimized and disadvantaged by your government, your parents or your environment. Many people are in worse conditions and yet tomorrow you see will many who will rise from those same ashes to become great. Everyone has a thousand excuses to fail, but great people always succeed because they never look for excuses.
5) Look for that person, group or organization that will see the good in you even if you cannot see it yourself. Everyone needs someone that believes in them, even when you don’t believe in yourself. Look for that kind of friend, partner or mentor, because along the line, you may fall, and he/she/they will be there to encourage and cheer you on.
And just before you go, just know that we believe in you!
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Engr Emma Okoro