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The Father, The Son and The Oprah Winfrey

January 31st, 2012 - By Charing Ball
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If God was a black woman, I’m pretty sure her name would be Oprah Winfrey.

Yes that Oprah. The all-mighty, powerful former Queen of Daytime Talk, who wants to be loved by all, rewards her faithful flock with a few of her “favorite things” and preached the gospel of life lessons and positive living through her master classes.  Oprah can move mountains, part seas and, with a stamp of her approval, can make any mere mortal into an overnight success. I often wonder what the world be like without Oprah’s watchful eye.  And when times get tough in my own personal life, I fall to my knees, in prayer and ask the heavens: what would Oprah Do?

Of course, I say this in jest but the way I hear some folks talk about the infinite power of Oprah to manipulate and influence change makes me wonder about the false power we assign to entertainers like Winfrey.  There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear or see in some context folks asking, “Why hasn’t Oprah done…?” Usually that question comes up in regards to the lack of financial support for some project or campaign happening within the community. But I have also seen it asked of just about anything including: “If Oprah has so much money, why hasn’t she funded the movies of every black filmmaker in Hollywood?” and “Oprah has her own network, so why doesn’t Oprah hire more Black people?” or “Why hasn’t Oprah did a show on late great jazz legend Phyllis Hyman (no actually that’s a real question)?” and “If there is not enough supermarkets in the Black community, why hasn’t Oprah written a few checks to have them all built?” and “Why hasn’t Oprah waved her magic wand and put a stop to black on black crime yet?” and “What do you mean they’re closing schools in Detroit? You know who could fix that? Oprah.” The list goes on and on.

Yes, there are a million things in the black community, which Winfrey has unceremoniously been given the task to fix. And with a net worth of $2.7 billion, being number 2 on Forbes list of the world’s most powerful women, you can certainly understand the temptation to buy infinite amounts of share in Winfrey’s sway-stock.  However, is it all that fair to think that Winfrey has a moral obligation to reach back a hand to elevate black women and black men and “fix” everything that is wrong within the Black community?

I know that there is much to admire about the woman and truth be told her philanthropic legacy is immeasurable. However if we were to measure it, Oprah’s generosity comes somewhere around $350 million during her lifetime. During her reign as talk show queen, Winfrey created the Oprah’s Angel Network, a charity, which provided grants to nonprofit and charitable organizations around the world. All told, the Angel Network raised upwards of $80 million dollars with 100 percent of funds going to projects like rebuilding efforts in areas ravished by Hurricane Katrina, providing scholarships to 250 African-American men continue or complete their education at Morehouse College, building parks in her homebase of Chicago and providing support for organizations, which work with the poor and AIDS-affected children in Africa. And we can’t forget about the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in Johannesburg, South Africa, which Winfrey invested $40 million of her own money to build.

Likewise, her openhandedness hasn’t stopped at charity; she has used a portion of her “brand” in the cinema arena including producing work from Black Authors such as Gloria Naylor’s Women of Brewster’s Place, Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Wedding, Toni Morrison’s Beloved as well as Spike Lee’s X and Lee Daniel’s Precious.  So it’s not like Oprah doesn’t do what she can to make the world a better place so why isn’t it enough?

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