Oprah Winfrey

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When the topic of influential, powerful, and society-changing women arises, particularly within the African American community, many people often cite Oprah as one of these women. Since the 1980’s she has left a sizable impact on the United States, Europe, and even in developing, third world countries. As a philanthropist, activist, former talk show host, and business mogul, she has definitely created what some may call her own empire. She has worked her way to the pinnacle of success. Being born into poverty and knowing the difficulties and struggle that comes with it, she has remained true to her roots and those less fortunate than herself.

Born to an unwed teenage mother on January 29, 1954, as a little girl, Oprah Winfrey could have never imagined the life she has created for herself today. She spent the first five years of her life on her grandmother’s farm in the small, rural town of Kosciusko, Mississippi. Her mother received financial and emotional support from her grandmother. Her grandmother even acted as a teacher, and at age three Oprah was well versed in classic poems and the Bible. Despite the poverty stricken life she was born into, Oprah was cherished among her local church goers who labeled her as a gifted child. She also enjoyed the loving support her grandmother provided.

However, her world would soon drastically change for the worse. At age six, she was sent to Milwaukee along with her mother who was able to find work as a housekeeper. Oprah was confined to long days in their inner city apartment, and was frequently sexually harassed and molested by male relatives and other men whom her mother was dating. This torment and abuse had a major emotional impact on the young Oprah, and lasted from the age of nine until thirteen. In the midst of this abuse, she had attempted to run away from home at the age of fourteen, and was sent to a juvenile detention center, only to be turned down because of overcrowding within the center. She had vowed to never return home. At the age of 15, she was completely independent from her mother and on her own. Oprah recalls being sexually promiscuous as a teenager and gave birth to a baby at the age of fifteen who died in early infancy. After this tragedy, she travelled to Nashville, Tennessee to live with her father, Vernon Winfrey. Luckily, Oprah’s father was able to provide a safety net for his daughter. Vernon was strict, and made sure that he established a set curfew for his daughter. He required that she read plenty of books and wrote one essay per week. "As strict as he was," says Oprah, "he had some concerns about me making the best of my life, and would not accept anything less than what he thought was my best." (Inspirational Women, 2008, ll. 8-9) Essentially, he saved her from a continued life of hardship and struggle. Her life would begin to finally change for the better. Thanks to her father’s disciplinarian method, Oprah thrived in high school and went on to win awards for oratory. She even became a top honors student.

At the age of 17, she entered and won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant. Following her win, she was offered a job on the radio station WVOL, a station which catered to issues and news within the African American community in Nashville, Tennessee. Oprah went on to win a full scholarship to Tennessee State University. She chose to major in Speech Communications and the Performing Arts. Since her broadcasting career had began to flourish, she chose to leave school and focus on pursuing her dream full time, signing a contract with a local television station as a news anchor and reporter. In 1976, Baltimore television station WJZ-TV offered her a full time position as a co-anchor, so she relocated to accept their offer. Oprah went on to host her first talk show, People Are Talking. In addition to hosting her own show, she remained a reporter and co-anchor. Her outgoing, warm, and empathic personality was infectious. Oprah’s ratings soared....
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