Today: When Oprah Winfrey got fired, it initally devastated her. Then it turned out to be a godsend.
Oprah’s story is almost unbelievable and yet it is true. She was born “a Negro” in 1954 into severe poverty in segregated Mississippi to an unwed, little educated teenage mother, Vernita Lee. While her mother looked for work up North, Oprah lived with her grandmother, Hattie Mae, a Negro maid serving white people and whose dream for Oprah was that she too would become a maid but hopefully for white people who would treat her with some dignity and respect. They lived in Hattie Mae’s primitive home, which had no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. It was there Oprah was taught to read and to 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.
But life took a terrible turn for Oprah, when at 6, she was sent to live with Vernita in a Milwaukee ghetto apartment. It was chaotic. With different men, her mother had had a daughter Pat when Oprah was 5, a son Jeffrey when Oprah was 6 and it later turned out when Oprah was 9, Vernita had another daughter secretly put up for adoption, coincidentally also named Pat. While Vernita was away for long hours cleaning homes, Oprah starting at the age of 9 was physically and sexually abused by male relatives and others and she was raped. Oprah tried to run away but even the home for girls in need had no bed for her. She grew into a troubled teenager who at 14, gave birth to a baby boy, who died in infancy.
No one could handle Oprah and she was sent to live with her father Vernon, a barber in Nashville, Tennessee. It was just what she needed. He loved her, made her feel safe and secure and he built her self-esteem. Although he too had little education, he understood the value of an education and had Oprah read a book each week and write a book report for him. He also encouraged her to excel in school and make the most of her life. She became an honor student and earned a scholarship to Tennessee State University, an historically black school
At the time, African Americans were seldom seen on television but Oprah started to see herself as a black version of white television star Barbara Walters 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. Continuing to work in local media, at 19 Oprah became Nashville’s youngest and first black female television news anchor at WLAC-TV. She did that so well, that in 1976, at 22 she was recruited to co-anchor the 6 pm news at WJZ-TV in Baltimore.
Then suddenly Oprah’s career came crashing down. WJZ decided she was dull and stiff on the air and noted she regularly mispronounced words. They fired her. “At the time, I was devastated, devastated!” is how an emotional Oprah recalled her feelings on her “Oprah Lifeclass on 10/17/11, all these years later.
But rather than put her 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. And Oprah blossomed as she never would have as a newswoman for she could be her very personable self. In what at first appeared to be a demotion, turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to her as she found her real calling. The show became a hit.
In 1984, a Chicago television station, WLS TV hired her to take over a failing half hour talk show and within the year, her “AM Chicago” became Chicago’s hottest local show and it was soon expanded to an hour. The next year it was renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and in 1986 it went nationwide and its popularity mushroomed, eventually going global and attracting many millions of viewers each day over the 25 years it was on the air.
Then Oprah stunned the entertainment industry by doing something unheard of. Even though her show remained enormously popular, in 2011 Oprah ended it so she could pursue her next big dream, building an entire television network. That network is OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) which in the U.S. is No. 279 on the Direct TV satellite/cable guide. It got off to a slow start yet I believe eventually it will become very successful.
But whatever happens, Oprah is growing immensely from the experience as she pursues dreams that at one time most people would have laughed off for a poor “Negro” girl in rural Mississippi. But she dared dream them and acted on those dreams to achieve all that she has.
Success Tip of the Week:
If Oprah can attain her dreams, so can you and I. Like her, we must be bold: dreaming big and finding the courage to act on those dreams.
Oprah’s half-brother Jeffrey died from AIDs at the age of 29 in 1989. Her half-sister Pat, despite Oprah paying for drug rehab twice, died from drug related causes at the age of 44 in 2003. In 2010, a half-sister Pat, of whom Oprah had never known, contacted her and has become a positive part of Oprah’s life.
In the next KazanToday:
How a man became a bestselling author at the age of 100.
Regarding OWN, jointly owned by Oprah Winfrey and Discovery Communications, Discovery has invested $254 million, through 9/30/11 and to date it has been losing money. As a result Oprah last summer became the CEO and has become extensively involved. To learn more, please see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204368104577139142237036300.html?mod=googlenews_wsj