Black History Month: Oprah Winfrey

Black History Month: Oprah Winfrey

She needs no introduction.

Queen Oprah has been a force in American culture for my (Dr. Donnelly) entire life and has shaped more of how we speak to each other and think about each other than I think we admit.

Last week, Dr. Hinson talked about Ava DuVernay – a more recent force – and it reminded me HOW EXCITED I AM FOR WRINKLE IN TIME OH MY GOSH. Which, also, reminded me of Oprah.

There are three main points I want to make about why we should be thankful that Oprah braved the world, pulling herself up by non-existent bootstraps, and taught my generation what self-care looks like.

Oprah’s Book Club

Reading is a superpower and I have been changed just as often in my life by fictional characters than by people I know in person. I remember when Oprah first released her book club, it was mocked so hard. The books she picked were ‘chick lit’ (as though that made them less than!) and women didn’t read serious books. Then, she picked a Tolstoy and a Faulkner and the sales still skyrocketed. What Harry Potter did for children’s reading habits, Oprah did for women’s, and I am grateful that this club helped so many other women see what I always knew – that books were magic.

She’s absolutely the only reason I slogged through Anna Karenina, no word of a lie.

Active Listening

When she had her talk show, one of her signatures was the attitude of ‘tell me more’. Her show was not a chat show where anecdotes were exchanged for ratings, or a tabloid show where DNA results were in the same exchange. Instead, she took elements of both of those and added the act of listening. And by listening to her guests, she demonstrated for us what it was like to not only listen to each other, but listen to ourselves.

Unapologetic Authenticity

Is Oprah a saint? Lol, no. Her friends have been … not always awesome (looking at you, Dr. Oz!) and sometimes she’s a bit… much. But what she always is is herself. I had no idea how valuable that was for years. If you think about her as an interviewer – she was always authentic. You think of her gifs – that was joy. You think of her weight? Hoooo buddy, did she not need to be authentic about that but I am so glad she was. As her understanding of her body evolved, I got a role model of someone who wasn’t always friends with her body but was working to be.

If you’ve never really thought about her, or laughed her off years ago, I encourage you to watch her most recent contribution to our society – the Golden Globes speech.

I hope you are taking the opportunity this month to learn about people of color you may not know about, or to learn more about those you’re familiar with. Dr. Hinson will be back next week to tell you about another lady who leads that we think you should consider adding to your mentoring pantheon.

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