By Spence Finlayson
NASSAU, Bahamas – I have never met Oprah Winfrey but I feel like I know her very well. She has and continue to be a great source of inspiration for me and millions of others. If there’s one person in media and business who is truly a household name, it’s Oprah Winfrey.
Called by many as the “Queen of All Media“ through hard work and perseverance, Oprah left behind the poverty of her youth to become a billionaire and one of the most influential people on the planet.
She sums it up very aptly in her quote “The reason I’ve been able to be so financially successful is my focus has never, ever for one minute been money.”
Born to an unwed teenage mother, Oprah Winfrey spent her first years on her grandmother’s farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi, while her mother looked for work in the North.
Life on the farm was primitive, but her grandmother taught her to read at an early age and at age three Oprah was reciting poems and Bible verses in local churches.
Despite the hardships of her physical environment, she enjoyed the loving support of her grandmother and the church community, who cherished her as a gifted child.
Her world changed for the worse at age six when she was sent to Milwaukee to live with her mother, who had found work as a housemaid.
In the long days when her mother was absent from their inner city apartment, young Oprah was repeatedly molested by male relatives and another visitor. The abuse, which lasted from the ages of nine to 13, was emotionally devastating.
When she tried to run away, she was sent to a juvenile detention home, only to be denied admission because all the beds were filled.
At age 14, she was out of the house and on her own. By her own account she was sexually promiscuous as a teenager. After giving birth to a baby boy who died on infancy, she went to Nashville, Tennessee to live with her father.
Vernon Winfrey was a strict disciplinarian, but gave his daughter the secure home life she needed. He saw to it that she met a curfew and he required her to read a book and write a book report each 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.”
In this structured environment, Oprah flourished and became an honor student, winning prizes for oratory and dramatic recitation.
At age 17, Oprah Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant and was offered an on-air job at WVOL, a radio station serving the African American community in Nashville.
She also won a full scholarship to Tennessee State University, where she majored in Speech Communications and Performing Arts.
Oprah continued to work at WVOL in her first years of college, but her broadcasting career was already taking off. She left school and signed on with a local television station as a reporter and anchor.
Oprah Winfrey said in one of her famous quotes. “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you are willing to work.”
Oprah also said “create the highest, grandest vision possible for your life, because you become what you believe.” This is so powerful.
I personally encourage you to “Don’t allow what others think about you to stop you from striving for greatness! You are a child of the Creator and you are destined for success.”
In 1976, she moved to Baltimore to join WJZ-TV News as a co-anchor. There, she co-hosted her first talk show, “People Are Talking”, while continuing to serve as anchor and news reporter. She had found a niche that perfectly suited her outgoing, empathetic personality and word soon spread to other cities.
In January 1984, she was invited to Chicago to host a faltering half-hour morning program on WLS-TV.
In less than a year, she turned AM Chicago into the hottest show in town, the format was soon expanded to an hour and in September 1985 it was renamed The Oprah Winfrey Show.
A year later, “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was broadcast nationally and quickly became the number one talk show in national syndication . In 1987 , its first year of eligibility , the show received three Daytime Emmy Awards in the categories of outstanding host, outstanding talk/service program and outstanding direction.
Oprah said “The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but on significance and then even the small steps and little victories along your path will take on greater meaning.” So true!
By the time America fell in love with Oprah Winfrey the talk show host, she had already captured the nation’s attention with her poignant portrayal of Sofia in Steven Spielberg’s 1985 adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel, “The Color Purple”.
Winfrey’s performance earned her nominations for an Oscar and a Golden Globe Award as Best Supporting Actress. Critics again lauded her performance in “Native Son”, a movie adaption of Richard Wright’s classic 1940 novel.
Her love of acting and her desire to bring quality entertainment projects into production prompted her to form her own production company, Harpo Productions, Inc, in 1986.
Today, Harpo is a formidable force in film and television production, as well as magazine publishing and the Internet.
In 19988, Harpo Productions, Inc, acquired ownership and all production responsibilities for “The Oprah Winfrey Show’ from Capitol Cities/ABC making Oprah Winfrey the first woman in history to own and produce her own talk show.
The following year, Harpo produced its first television miniseries, “The Woman of Brewster Place’, with Oprah Winfrey as star and Executive Producer.
In one of her powerful quotes, Oprah said “Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.”
It was during my days that I began to read Oprah’s OWN magazine and the articles and stories really made an impact on me. One article in particular became confirmation for me for my next move in my professional career as a motivational speaker, it was called “Phoenix Rising “.
I had just began listening to my favorite group on the planet, The Temptations new CD called “Phoenix Rising “ and my rebirth was imminent. I don’t just believe in God, I know God. His handiwork was all over my steps and he continues to order my steps today.
Oprah Winfrey’s show continued to attract the top names in the entertainment industry; a 1993 interview with the reclusive King of Pop, Michael Jackson drew a hundred million viewers, making it the most watched interview in television history.
Oprah Winfrey was named one of the “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century “ by Time Magazine and in 1998 received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Oprah’s business interests have extended well beyond her own production company. She is one of the partners of Oxygen Media, Inc., a cable channel and interactive network presenting programming designed primarily for women.
With her massive success she has also become one of the world’s most generous philanthropists.
“If you don’t know what your passion is, realize that one reason for your existence on earth is to find it.” So said Oprah Winfrey.
Her influence over the publishing industry exploded when she began her on-air book club in 1996. “Oprah Book Club” selections became instant bestsellers and in 1999 Winfrey received the National Book Foundation’s 50th anniversary gold medal for her service to books and authors.
When Forbes Magazine published its list of America’s Billionaires for the year 2003, it disclosed that Oprah Winfrey was the first African-American woman to become a billionaire.
In the 2008 presidential election, Winfrey publicly endorsed a political candidate for the first time, hosting a fundraiser for Senator Barack Obama and appearing with him at campaign events. It is widely believed that her support was crucial to his winning the Democratic nomination and the Presidency itself.
In that election year, she also announced plans for a new broadcasting venture with the Discovery Health Channel, to be renamed Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).
Oprah has visited my country the Bahamas on numerous occasions. She is a very close friend of Bahamian-American Academy Award winning actor, Sir Sidney Poitier, She accompanied him to Nassau for the renaming of the Paradise Island Bridge, which leads from Nassau to Paradise Island, the Sir Sidney Poitier Bridge.
Oprah Winfrey, a woman of much inspiration and worthy of much praise.
Finally she said’ Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you’ll never, ever have enough.”