“People Just Like You” Series – Oprah Winfrey

“Anything you can imagine, you can create” Oprah Winfrey

Its Winfrey’s Story today!!


Her full name is Oprah Gail Winfrey, and she is best known for her talk show, The Oprah Winfrey Show, which was the highest-rated television program of its kind in history. But she was also the richest African American of the 20th century and was once the world’s only Black billionaire.

Growing up for many of us decades ago, Oprah was a massive role model mostly because she had the kind of career that was once seen as an impossibility for a woman. However, what you may not have known is that Oprah has been battling against adversity her whole life.

Lets delve into her story

Who is Oprah Winfrey?

Winfrey is a billionaire media executive, actress and philanthropist and America’s first lady of talk shows. She is well known for surpassing her competition to become the most watched daytime show host on television. Her natural style with guests and audiences on the Oprah Winfrey Show earned her widespread popularity.

The Oprah Winfrey Show, which aired for 25 seasons, from 1986 to 2011 remains the highest-rated daytime talk show in American television history. In 2011, Winfrey launched her own TV network, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN).

The show was highly influential to many young stars, and many of its themes have penetrated the American pop-cultural consciousness. Winfrey used the show as an educational platform, featuring book clubs, interviews, self-improvement segments, and philanthropic forays into world events. The show did not attempt to profit off the products it endorses; it had no licensing agreement with retailers when products were promoted, nor did the show make any money from endorsing books for its book club.

She interviewed a plethora of public figures and everyday people during the show’s 25-year history and was a melting pot for celebrities to unveil secrets about their life. Her TV show was reputed to be emotional and had a human face.

So how did she get started?

Her story

Winfrey had a difficult childhood and it started after she was born. She was born to Vernita Lee and Vernon Winfrey on an isolated farm in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 29, 1954. Her name was supposed to be Orpah, from the Bible, but because of the difficulty of spelling and pronunciation, she was known as Oprah almost from birth.

Winfrey’s unmarried parents separated soon after she was born and left her in the care of her maternal grandmother on the farm. Her grandmother was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which other children made fun of her.

Her mother was less supportive and encouraging than her grandmother had been, largely as a result of the long hours she worked as a maid. Her mother had two other children whom she either dumped at her grandmother’s or put up for adoption.

As a child, Winfrey entertained herself by “playacting” in front of an “audience” of farm animals. Under the strict guidance of her grandmother, she learned to read at two and a half years old.

It is reported that Winfrey skipped kindergarten after writing a note to her teacher on the first day of school saying she belonged in the first grade. She was promoted to third grade after that year.

When Oprah’s grandmother got sick, she was sent north to live with her mother and her half-sister in a boarding house in Milwaukee, there she had a troubled adolescence. In the small farming community where she stayed, she was sexually abused by a number of male relatives (cousins) and friends of her mother, Vernita, before she moved to Nashville to live with her father, Vernon, a barber and businessman.

Winfrey once commented that she had chosen not to be a mother because she had not been mothered well. At 13, after suffering what she described as years of abuse, Winfrey ran away from home. When she was 14, she became pregnant, but her son was born prematurely and died shortly after birth.

Winfrey said her father saved her life. It was the turning point for her. He was very strict and provided her with guidance, structure, rules, and books. He required his daughter to complete weekly book reports, and she went without dinner until she learned five new vocabulary words each day.

Winfrey became an excellent student, participating as well in the drama club, debate club, and student council. Winfrey became an honors student, was voted Most Popular Girl, and joined her high school speech team at East Nashville High School, placing second in the nation in dramatic interpretation.

In an Elks Club speaking contest, she won a full scholarship to Tennessee State University.

In 1971, Winfrey gained admission into the Tennessee State University. She began working in radio and television broadcasting in Nashville.

How did she fare with her career?

In 1976, Winfrey moved to Baltimore, Maryland, where she hosted the TV chat show People Are Talking. The show became a hit and Winfrey stayed with it for eight years, after which she was recruited by a Chicago TV station to host her own morning show, A.M. Chicago. Within several months, Winfrey’s open, warm-hearted personal style had won her 100,000 more viewers than her closest competitor and had taken her show from last place to first in the ratings.

In 1985 Quincy Jones saw Winfrey on television and thought she would make a fine actress in a movie he was coproducing with director Steven Spielberg titled The Color Purple. The popularity of Winfrey’s show skyrocketed after the success of The Color Purple.

Winfrey then launched The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986 as a nationally syndicated program that ran for 25 years, until 2011. With its placement on 120 channels and an audience of 10 million people, the show grossed $125 million by the end of its first year, of which Winfrey received $30 million.

She soon gained ownership of the program from ABC, drawing it under the control of her new production company, Harpo Productions (‘Oprah’ spelled backwards) and making more and more money from syndication and one of the wealthiest women in America and the highest paid entertainer in the world.

Winfrey has also created a television network (OWN), earned the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Bob Hope Humanitarian Award, been nominated for an Oscar and been recognized as the first Black female billionaire in the United States.

Lessons learned!

  • Your past doesn’t define you

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”

Winfrey’s success contrast sharply with her upbringing and early life. Her approach to broadcasting by creating an emotional connection and even outburst on her show lays credence to learnings from her early years.

Winfrey didn’t let her past experiences define her. Instead of basing her identity on a previous life of poverty, abuse and self-destructive behavior, Oprah focused on her potential and started on a new path. Coming from such a background, Oprah fought back with determination, learning to read at age three and discovering that there was a whole world out there which could be so much better than what she lived in. 

  • Education is key to progress

I believe she found solace, comfort and identity in education. In order to make meaningful changes, you must transform the way people think. The only way to improve your life is by changing your mind first which happens through education.

  • Be authentic and intentional

When Winfrey’s talk show first began, it focused on sensational topics like most other daytime offerings. But after taping an episode where a woman found out on the air that her husband had been unfaithful, Oprah made a conscious decision to change the show’s format to align with her values.  From that point on the show shifted its focus away from the salacious to self-improvement. 

  • Find success through service

She didn’t reach the heights of success by continuously pursuing it. Instead, her primary goal has been to fulfil her calling as a teacher and to serve others. Listen to her thought on this.

“What I know for sure is that if you want to have success, you can’t make success your goal…the key is not to worry about being successful but to instead work toward being significant—and the success will naturally follow. How can you serve your way to greatness? When you shift your focus from success to service, your work as a teacher, clerk, doctor, or dot-comer will instantly have more meaning.”

  • Do Not Fear Failure

“Every time you suppress some part of yourself or allow others to play you small, you are in essence ignoring the owner’s manual your creator gave you and destroying your design.”

Oprah worked in a world pre-dominated by white males. She used every failure as a stepping-stone to success, undeterred by harassment and sexism, which she too had to face in her life at some point or the other. She never felt the need to follow norms or be in agreement to everything to please anybody. 

  • Let Go of The Past

“You have the choice this very moment — the only moment you have for certain. I hope you aren’t so wrapped up in nonessential stuff that you forget to really enjoy yourself — because this moment is about to be over.”

In the three decades of her show, Oprah always exhorted women to let go of their past and to get moving to make the change they wanted in their lives – to fully live in the present. Having seen the worst of life, she was always optimistic and refused to be cowed down by obstacles.

  • Don’t React To Negativity

“If there are a lot of negative people in your life, don’t look at them, look at the energy you are creating to attract them “

Oprah had to face a lot of insinuations and rumours in her lifetime. Her mantra was simple – she believed in responding, not reacting to negativity. She felt there was enough negativity in the world, to waste precious time reacting to negative people. 

I hope you found one or two lessons from her remarkable story. Share your comments and lets see what you have learned.

Related Posts


6 thoughts on ““People Just Like You” Series – Oprah Winfrey”

  1. Her determination set her apart coupled with her father being a disciplined person making her a top student. Nice and motivational.

      1. Adedamola Ilori

        Very educative and enlightening. I took this from the story “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.” and am running with it. Thanks Akin for this ,it’s so helpful.. Well done brother

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Contact Us

Just write down some details about you and we will get back to you in a jiffy!