We all know the saying, “Never forget where you came from,” and Oprah just demonstrated that she hasn’t by donating $12 million in Covid-19 relief funds to Nashville, Kosciusko, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Baltimore: the five “home cities” that helped shape the media mogul into the professional and philanthropist she is today.
“I wanted to do something for the communities where I grew up and people who helped me to grow into who I am,” Oprah said on a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon. “When I thought about this whole giving back idea, first and foremost, I started with my own family, people in my immediate family who might be out of work– cousins, friends, helping them out to make sure they had what they needed…and then I worked my way trough my home towns: Nashville, Mississippi, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Baltimore.”
Oprah started out by reaching out to her half-brother, Tommy Walker, in Nashville, where she lived during high school and college, whom she asked, “Who are the churches who are on the ground doing the real work?” Her brother directed her to Mount Zion Baptist Church’s Bishop Walker III and from there NashvilleNurtures, a collaboration between the church and Tennessee State University, the multi-billionaire’s Alma mater, was created. Their first effort was to provide $200 Kroger gift cards for those in need, which resulted in 10,000 families being fed.
It was Bishop Walker who came up with the idea for the Kroger gift cards in response to Oprah’s primary concern: “How do I make sure that money is going to get directly into hands?”
Referencing the parable of Jesus feeding the multitude, Oprah shared, “Often I believe in the adage that you spend your money and your charitable philanthropy work is to raise people up and teach them how to fish for themselves, but during this pandemic what I recognize is sometimes people just need a piece of fish. They just need some fish and some bread.”
In addition to NashvilleNurters, remaining funds from the $12 million donation will support the following organizations:
- Live Healthy Chicago: an initiative to provide wellness visits, contact tracing, and care packages for thousands of families in predominately African-American and Latinx communities.
- SaintA: An organization that provides telehealth mental health services to Milwaukee residents, particularly the African American community.
- The Nia Imani Family, Inc: An organization in Milwaukee which provides housing for young, pregnant or first-time mothers, many of whom are recovering from homelessness, violence, or other traumatic life experiences.
- The Boys and Girls Club of Kosciusko, Mississippi which has established a drive-thru food pantry that provides daily food for more than 1,500 children in East Mississippi.
- Living Classrooms Foundation: a non-profit in Baltimore that’s helping to disrupt the cycle of poverty in the city by teaching children various health and wellness life skills, workforce development, and violence prevention.
- Center for Urban Families, an organization in Baltimore that works to connect fathers to their children, create opportunities for economic and financial security through work, and provide access to other key interventions and supportive services.
Beyond providing relief for these communities, which we know have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, Oprah said the bigger gift of the donation is letting people know good things can happen to them again. “It’s instilling the hope and letting people know that they are thought of,” she shared.
It’s that thoughtfulness that she hopes will carry over into life on the other side of the pandemic though, despite getting a “timeout,” as she said, to reassess our values and connect with people in ways we weren’t before, she fears the effect won’t be everlasting. “I know that people are going to forget because they want to forget. People just want to get back and they want it to be the way it was and I think there is going to be an even greater price to pay for that”
Still, the most-watched woman in daytime history is hopeful that some lessons remain once the pandemic subsides.
“One of the greatest things this showed us is how we are all connected and how we are one because look who turns out to be essential in this whole thing, people who literally could’ve written their own book on being the invisible man, invisible woman, invisible workers because people just didn’t see you. One of the things that 25 years of ‘The Oprah Show’ taught me is that the greatest gift you can give anybody is to see them, is to hear them, and to recognize that they matter. That’s what everybody is looking for.
“What I am hoping is that no one looks at a grocery cashier the same,” she added. “That nobody looks at the guy who’s stocking the groceries the same. That nobody looks at the food that has come to their table and the truck driver that had to get it to the grocery store the same. What I am hoping is that there will be some lasting memory of the connection that we all share as human beings who are essential to the life of one another.”