Oprah Winfrey: From pervasive poverty to media multi-billionaire (the true story)

“Got a vision that no one else sees,

Remember there is a war out there,

You can’t stop the fire from rising,

So come prepared to face the battle,

Get up!! You are a conqueror, and you don’t accept DEFEAT!!”


“Do the one thing you think you cannot do, fail at it, try again, and do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.

This is your moment. Own it”

-Oprah Winfrey


Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey seen onstage at 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival – Montecito Award ceremony on Wednesday, Feb, 5, 2014 in Santa Barbara, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)


Oprah Winfrey born January 29, 1954 is a renowned American media proprietor, talk show host, actress, producer and philanthropist.


Net worth: 3.2 billion USD (2015) according to Forbes magazine

She is best known for her talk show “The Oprah Winfrey Show, which is the highest-rated program of its kind in history and was nationally syndicated from 1986 to 2011. She has been rank the richest African-American of the 20th century, the greatest black philanthropist in American history and is currently North America’s first and only black multi-billionaire.

Awards; Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama, Honorary doctorate (Duke & Harvard), Kennedy Center Honors, Peabody Award, Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Awards, Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, Primetime Emmy e.t.c


Early Life


Winfrey was named “Orpah” after the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth but people mispronounced it as Oprah.

Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to an unmarried teenage mother Vernita Lee as a result of a sexual encounter. After Winfrey’s birth, her mother travelled north and Winfrey spent her first six years living in rural poverty with her maternal grandmother Hattie Mae (Presley) lee, who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks  and often laughed at by the local children. At age three Winfrey was taught how to read by her grandmother and was called “The Preacher” for her ability to recite bible verses. Growing up, her grandmother would hit her with a stick when she did not do chores or if she misbehaved.

At age Six, Winfrey moved to a neighbourhood in Miwaukee, Wiscconsin with her mother Vernita Lee, who was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother have been as a result of the long hours she worked as a maid. Lee had given birth to another daughter, Winfrey’s younger half-sister, Patricia who later in February 2003, at age 43 died of causes related to cocaine addiction and a half-brother Jeffrey who died of AIDS-related causes.

After suffering years of abuse, Winfrey ran away from home when she was 14, she became pregnant but gave birth to a premature son who died shortly after birth.

Winfrey dealt with a lot throughout her public life and early childhood- criticism about her weight, racism intrusive questions about her sexuality, molestation by her uncle, and family friends, just to name a few but she never let it get in the way of her ambition and she kept the fire burning.


The Beginning


Winfrey began going to Lincoln High School after early success in the Upward Bound program, and was transferred to the affluent suburban Nicolet High School, where she says poverty was constantly rubbed in her face as she rode the bus to school with fellow African-Americans, some of whom were servants of her classmate’s families. She lied and stole money from her mother in other to keep up with her free-spending peers and to go out with older boys. Her very frustrated mother sent her to live with Vernon in Nashville, Tennessee. Vernon was strict, but encouraging, and made her education a priority.

Winfrey became an honors student, was voted Most Popular Girl, and joined her high school speech team at Eat Nashville High School, Placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretation. She won an oratory contest, which secured full scholarship to Tennessee State University a historically black institution, where she studied communication.

At 17, Winfrey won the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant that attracted the attention of the local black radio station, WVOL which hired her to do the news part-time. Working in local media, she was the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV. She moved to Baltimore’s WJZ-TV to co-anchor the Six o’clock news. She was later removed as co-anchor and worked in a lower positions at the station. In 1983 Winfrey relocated to Chicago to host WLS-TV’S low rated half hour morning talk show, AM Chicago. Rankings skyrocketed from last place to overtaking Donahue as the highest rated talk show months after Winfrey took over.




Winfrey was persuaded by movie critic Roger Ebert to sign a syndication deal with King World which was predicted would generate 40 times as much revenues at the Movies. It was renamed the Oprah Winfrey Show and subsequently expanded to a full hour broadcast nationally beginning September 1986. Winfrey show brought in double Donahue’s national audience, displacing Donahue as the number – one daytime talk show in America. In the early years of OWS, the program was classified as a tabloid talk show. In the mid-1990s, Winfrey adopted a less tabloid format hosting the show on broader topics.

In addition to her talk show, Winfrey also produced and co-starred in The Women of Brewster Place as well as hosting and appearing on television shows. She confounded the women’s cable television network Oxygen. She is also the president of Harpo Productions (Oprah spelled backwards)


OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network


On January 15, 2008, Winfrey and Discovery Communication announced plans to change Discovery Health Channel into a new channel called OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network which was scheduled to launch in 2009 but was actually launched on January 1, 2011.


Why we chose Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey is a woman of substance.

After facing several challenges, received little or no care from family, was abused, molested, even bullied, she kept her dream alive and never gave up.

Oprah’s incredible story should inspire every one of us going through different challenges, “Passion + Persistence = Success


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Published by Ogunbowale Olugbenga

Ogunbowale Olugbenga is a multiple award winning social entrepreneur & digital skills expert. An alumnus of the Leadership in Business Institute of Kellogg School of Management (USA), He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Obafemi Awolowo University (Nigeria). Inspired by the plight of millions of unemployed youths, Olugbenga founded Epower.ng, a digital agency passionately growing businesses & accelerating the application of digital skills for economic prosperity across Africa. To help institutions prevent scandals & promote performance, Gbenga founded Polivoice.Work, an anonymous employee feedback tool that captures & analyses feedback anonymously in real time to detect, predict & improve work place conditions. A Mandela Washington Fellow, Tony Elumelu Fellow, Royal Common wealth society fellow, YALI star of business & YALI network influencer, Olugbenga is the founder of Africa’s biggest orphanage outreach, The Orphan Empowerment Society, with a 5,000 strong volunteer force and a presence in 19 African countries empowering thousands of orphans with free vocational skills, medical care, & food. He is also the co-founder of the communication & leadership organization, Pacesetters Leadership Club.

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