Oprah was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi on January 29, 1954 (Academy of Achievement 2005). She was brought up by a grandmother in a farm where she learned to read aloud and recite at the age of 3. From 6 years old, she lived with her mother, Vernita Lee, in Milwaukee. She suffered abuse and molestation, ran away and was sent to a juvenile detention home at 13 where she was refused admission because all the beds were occupied. She was moved to her father's house in Nashville where she was subjected to strict discipline. Her father, Vernon, made his daughter observe a midnight curfew and read and write a book report each week. Oprah would later admit that, despite his strictness, he was for what was best in her life and would not accept anything less than what he believed was that best.
Oprah finished a course in Speech Communications and Performing Arts at the Tennessee State University (Academy of Achievement 2005). Her broadcasting career started at age 17 when she was taken in by WVOL radio in Nashville and two years later signed in as a reporter and anchor at WTVF-TV. Then she joined WJZ-TV in Baltimore in 1976. Two years later, her talent for hosting talk shows was discovered when she became a co-host of WJZ-TV's program, "People Are Talking," while she continued to work as anchor and news reporter. Her stunning career took a leap when she went to Chicago to host WLS-TV's "AM Chicago," then a failing local talk show. In less than a year, Oprah changed "AM Chicago" into the hottest show in the area. The show extended to an hour and, in September 1985, was renamed into "the Oprah Winfrey Show." It became a nationally viewed show starting September 8, 1986 and the number one talk show in syndication in less than a year.
"The Oprah Winfrey Show" received three Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Host, Outstanding Talk/Service Program and Outstanding Direction in June 1987, the first year the show became eligible (Academy of Achievement 2005). Oprah's show received the second and consecutive Daytime Emmy Award as Outstanding Talk/Service Program in June 1988. She was also named the Broadcaster of the Year by the International Radio and Television Society, the youngest and only the fifth woman to receive the award in the Society's 25 years of history. Oprah first grabbed national attention to herself in her sharp performance in Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of Alice Walker's novel, "The Color Purple" in 1985, for which she won nominations for an Oscar and Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actress. She was also hailed for her performance in the movie adaptation of Richard Wright's 1940 novel, "Native Son."
Oprah then formed her own production company, HARPO Productions, Inc. In 1986 out of her deep love for acting and desire to produce quality entertainment material (Academy of Achievement 2005, Phila.Gov 2003). It is based in Chicago and includes HARPO Productions, Inc., HARPO Films and HARPO Video, Inc. By October 1988, HARPO Productions had acquired full ownership and production responsibilities for "The Oprah Winfrey Show" from Capitol Cities/ABC. The acquisition made Oprah the first woman in history to own and produce her own talk show. In 1989, HARPO produced a series of television ministries, "The Women of Brewster Place," with Oprah as star and executive producer; TV movies, "There Are No Children Here" in 1993; and "Before Women Had Wings" in 1997. She produced and appeared in both movies. She also performed in the film version of the book, "Beloved," by Nobel Prize winner American author Toni Morrison in 1998.
Leadership and Further Career Successes
Oprah's own memories of childhood abuse led her to campaign for the establishment of a national database of convicted child abusers in 1991 and also testified before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of a National Child Protection Act (Academy of Achievement 2005). This Act was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1993 and called it the "Oprah Bill." This database is now available to law enforcement agencies and other interested parties all over the country. She has since then risen to greater fame as one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century by Time Magazine (Phila-Gov 2003). In 1998, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Her awesome success and fame branched out into the publishing industry when she started an on-air book club, the Oprah Book Club (Academy of Achievement 2005, Phila.Gov 2003). The Club's selections became instant bestsellers, for which she was given a gold medal by the National Book Foundation in its 50th anniversary in 1999 for her service to books and authors. She is also a partner in Oxygen Media, Inc., a cable channel and interactive network, primarily catering to women. In 2000, the network presented a $100,000 "Use Your Life Award" to those who use their lives for the improvement of the lives of others. In 2003, Forbes Magazine listed Oprah as the first African-American woman to become a billionaire. In the same year, she was also Philadelphia's recipient of the 2003 Marian Anderson Award. All these have made Oprah Winfrey one of the most influential voices of the times. Her HARPO multi-media corporation has poured in contributions beyond television into publishing, music, film, philanthropy, education, health and fitness, and social awareness. Specifically as supervising producer and host of her powerful show, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," she entertains, enlightens and empowers her millions of viewers all over the world.
Along with these huge successes, Oprah founded and directs "O, The Oprah Magazine," a monthly magazine, which connects to her audience and provides possibilities of changing their lives (Phila.Gov 2003). Its magazine launch was said to have been the most successful in recent times. In April 2002, Oprah launched the magazine's international edition in South Africa.
Oxygen Media LLC includes a women's cable network and through it, Oprah created and produced originals, such as "Oprah Goes Online," "Use Your Life," and the prime-time "Oprah After the Show (Phila.Gov 2003)." The last is a daily half-hour spontaneous and unscripted show taped after holding "The Oprah Winfrey Show." In September 2002, Oprah also created and launched "Dr. Phil," which featured life strategist Dr. Phil McGraw, a frequent guest at "the Oprah Winfrey Show" since 1998. It quickly earned success ratings and drew the best audience figures since Oprah's own show started in 1986.
The Oprah Winfrey Foundation was established to extend support for the inspiration, empowerment, education and well-being of women, children and families throughout the world (Phil.Gov 2003). Through it, she has directly served the needs of the less fortunate and has awarded hundreds of grants to organizations, which implement or assist the same objective. Through it, she has also contributed millions of dollars for the provision of better education to under-served students who deserve help but do not have the means. Oprah has served as the national spokesperson for "A Better Chance," an organization that provides academically fit students of color, especially from the inner school districts, with the chance to enter the nation's finest college preparatory schools. She operates The Oprah Winfrey Scholars Program, which gives scholarships to students who are determined to gain education and use it back to their communities in the U.S. And abroad.
The Foundation has expanded global humanitarian efforts in developing countries (Phil.Gov 2003). In December 2002, Oprah gave joy to tens of thousands of children through her Christmas Kindness South Africa 2002 through visits to orphanages and rural schools in several provinces in South Africa. Children in these institutions received gifts of food, clothing, athletic shoes, school supplies, books and toys. These continued till the following year. Oprah also formed a partnership with South Africa's Ministry of Education in building a model leadership school for girls, which opened in January this year.
Oprah has created an unprecedented and unparalleled connection with people all over the world through the power of the media, specifically as supervising producer and host of her globally acclaimed and award-winning Show (HARPO 2005). Through it, she has brought fun, information, enlightenment and uplifted millions of viewers for the past two decades. She has accomplished a lot and carved her name in fame as a television pioneer, producer, publisher, educator and philanthropist and one of the most respected and admired public figures in the world today. Young leaders of any color, race, gender, calling or religion can gain inspiration from Oprah's beginnings, struggles and awesome successes. Her dedication to the less fortunate all over the world has endowed her with much fame and influence that the world will always remember.
Oprah's honorary achievements include the 2005 Hall of Fame Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the Global Humanitarian Action Award from the United Nations Association of the United States of America in 2004; the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters;…