I’m assuming that everyone reading this knows who Oprah Winfrey is, correct? If not, you’ve been living under a rock for the last 25 years, while this dynamic woman became the first black, non-athlete power broker in history. I met Oprah in 2008 and I have to say that she is as incredible a person in person as she is on TV. She walks the walk, but truly has a presence unlike anyone I’ve ever met. I mean, she sends her staff on a paid vacation every year, where they can take their spouse and children… great boss, right?
As her award-winning show comes to an end, I want to take a look at some of the ways she has influenced our lives, including consumer spending (dubbed the Oprah Effect), and where the media megastar will go from here…
Oprah was born in Mississippi in 1954, the same year Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka decisions ended racial segregation in schools. After years of sexual abuse at the hands of her male relatives, she moved to Tennessee to live with her father and attend college where things started to happen. She was named Miss Black Tennessee, hired by a radio station and became Nashville’s first African-American TV correspondent before heading off to Baltimore in 1976 to co-anchor the 6pm news. Two short years later, Oprah became the host for the local Baltimore talk show, called People are Talking, where she spent six years, before relocating to Chicago, where we all know, The Oprah Winfrey Show got its start!
Whether you watch her religiously, like her for all that she’s accomplished or feel the need to roll your eyes when you hear her name, I think we call all agree that this woman has truly left a mark on our hearts and in our society.
A Look Back on 25 Years…
1) Weight struggles and diet suggestions: From fasting to fad diets and marathon running to veganism, the woman has covered all dietary programs on her show and in her life. Viewers saw Oprah go through periods of being thin, to gaining weight, to losing weight and then settling somewhere in the middle. Remember when she wheeled the wagon of fat onto the stage? Or, most recently, asked her entire staff to go vegan for a month? On May 10, Oprah had her last weight related show, where she welcomed 100 viewers who had lost 100 pounds or more. What an inspiring way to wrap that subject component of her show!
2) Philanthropy: In 1997, Oprah asked American’s to donate their spare change to those less fortunate. This simple gesture launched Oprah’s Angel Network, which provided funds to hundreds of organizations each year that focus on education and basic human rights. Over the years, 55 schools were built in 12 countries, 1000 families were given a home after theirs had been destroyed in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and thousands of books were donated to students living in areas of poverty. The Network has since shut down, but Oprah encourages her audience and viewers to always give back.
3) Reading: It’s Oprah’s Book Club! Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE has read at least one book from Oprah’s Book Club! In 1996, the book club launched when Oprah recommended a book to her readers. And what happened from there is the Oprah Effect at it’s best… When Oprah announced it, the author’s book immediately became a best seller. Overnight. What began as a once-monthly book selection found its groove at 3-4 novels per year, and over the course of 15 years, officially changed the lives of 65 different authors when she chose their book. (Full list of books)
4) Taboo topics: From racial inequality to gay rights, Oprah never shied away from a taboo topic. She has invited white supremists, homosexual parents, victims of abuse and people struggling with addiction to share her stage to bring their stories to us. On the first season of her show, she visited Forsyth, Georgia where not one single black person had lived for 75 years. Today, 25 years later, 7000 African American families call Forsyth home. This woman can seriously change the world. No, wait. She already has…
5) Catapulted careers: With 44 millions viewers per week, Oprah has to merely mention a product and sales will double practically overnight. The products that she gives away on her Give Away show, are gone from the shelves within days. If you’re a small company, and Oprah is about to say your name on her show, be prepared! And that’s with a product, what about the personalities. Dr. Phil McGraw, Nate Burkus, Dr. Oz, and Dr. Bob Green all got their start with Oprah. From making an appearance on her show, to eventually having a show of their own (under the Harpo Production Company, one of Oprah’s endeavors) these personalities have the big O to thank for catapulting their career.
When asked to reflect on her 25th and final season, Oprah said to Gayle King that the message of her program is: “You are not the product of your circumstances. You are a composite of all the things you believe, and all the places you believe you can go. Your past does not define you. You can step out of your history and create a new day for yourself. Even if the entire culture is saying, ‘You can’t.’ Even if every single possible bad thing that can happen to you does, you can keep going forward.”