Talk Show Host, Entrepreneur, Philanthropist
Oprah Winfrey is now a household name, famous for her talk show and for her achievements as an African American woman. She is the richest African-American of the 20th century AND the greatest black philanthropist in American history. Many people believe her to be the most influential woman in the world.
But she didn’t start out rich and famous – in fact, her situation was quite the opposite. She was born to a single teenage mother who worked as a maid in rural Mississippi. Her father was a coal miner, a barber, and served in the Army. Winfrey was so poor, that she had to wear dresses made out of potato sacks. Other kids made fun of her. She was smart though – her grandmother taught her how to read before she was three years old. And, at that age, she was already practicing to be a talk show host: she would “interview” her corn cob dolls, and even crows!
Things started looking up when she got to high school, where she joined the debate team. She won a speech contest in which she won a full scholarship to college. After she won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant, a local radio station offered her a job to do the news part-time. After a few years, she moved into television, becoming Nashville’s youngest TV news anchor, and the TV station’s first black, female news anchor. She worked through various TV jobs until she got to Chicago, where she became a daytime talk show host.
Her show went from the least popular to the most popular talk show in Chicago. The show was re-named the Oprah Winfrey Show and was broadcast to a national audience, which made her a millionaire at the age of 32. She then started her own production company, and eventually her own TV station. She also starred in and produced movies, co-wrote five books, currently publishes several magazines and has her own radio station.
In 1998, Winfrey started a charity called “Oprah’s Angel Network” that raised almost $80 million dollars for nonprofits and charitable causes around the world with the goal of “inspiring people and making a difference in the lives of others” by fighting poverty, child neglect, disease, and homelessness. After Hurricane Katrina, Winfrey raised more than $11 million dollars and personally donated another $10 million to help rebuild homes.
She also gave Christmas presents of dolls, soccer balls, and school supplies to 50,000 poor children in South Africa. She asked her viewers to help these South African children, many of whom were affected by AIDS, and $7 million dollars poured in from her fans. Shortly after that, she spent $40 million starting a school for girls in South Africa. She even teaches a class at the school, on a private TV channel.
In 2004, Winfrey became the first black person to rank among the 50 most generous Americans – by 2012 she had given away over $400 million to educational causes. She has given away over 400 college scholarships, and in 2013 Winfrey gave $12 million to the Smithsonian Museum’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.