by Kevin Hofmann Director of the Office of Racial Equity and Cultural Inclusion This woman changed the game in journalism. If we are “Celebrating Women who tell our stories,“ we can’t have this conversation without mentioning this woman. Oprah Winfrey gave a platform to the unheard. She created space for all whether she agreed with them or not. She ruled the daytime talk show stage for 25 years and she made us confront things like race, sexuality, culture, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, mental health, finances, relationships, and many other things. Oprah Winfrey was born Orpah Gail Winfrey. She was named after the biblical character in the book of Ruth. Her name was mispronounced so much that eventually everyone called her Oprah instead of Orpah which is the name on her birth certificate. Oprah was born to a teenage mother in a poor, rural area of Mississippi. Soon after her birth her mother moved to the North and left Winfrey to live with her grandmother. Her grandmother was poor but attentive, teaching Oprah to read by the age of three. She lived with her grandmother until she was six years old. At that time, Oprah moved to Milwaukee to live with her mother. She lived with her mother for two years and during that time her mother gave birth to Oprah’s half sister, Patricia. Her mother was unable to care for both of the girls, so she sent Oprah to live with Vernon Winfrey in Nashville. This is the man Oprah refers to as her father, although he was not her biological father. Ms. Winfrey was sent back to live with her mother in Milwaukee after a few years and was sexually abused by three family members. At age 13 she ran away from home and by 14 she was pregnant and gave birth to a son. Tragically, the son died soon after birth. Several years later a family member would sell the story of Oprah’s pregnancy and son to the National Inquirer, leaving Oprah feeling betrayed. After early academic success in a public high school, Oprah was moved to an affluent high school in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Hoping to fit in, Oprah stole money from her mother to buy nicer clothes for school. When she was caught, she was sent back to Nashville to live with Vernon Winfrey again. Ms. Winfrey would stay with Vernon for good this time. Once in a stable environment, Oprah began to shine. She was an honor student, a member of the speech team, and voted the most popular girl in high school. At age 17, she competed in the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant, and she won. This caught the attention of a local Black radio station whose management hired her to do the news at age 17! Ms. Winfrey would earn a full scholarship to Tennessee State, a historical Black university. She began working in TV while in college and became the youngest news anchor and the first Black woman news anchor at WLAC-TV in Nashville. Oprah took a job as a co-anchor of a news show in Baltimore and then was recruited to co-host a local talk show. She next moved to Chicago and accepted a position as the host of AM Chicago, a 30-minute failing morning news show. Within months she was outperforming Phil Donahue, the father of daytime talk shows. Two years later she would sign a syndication deal and launch the hour-long Oprah Winfrey show. On September 8, 1986, the show began and for the next 25 years she would rule the afternoon, becoming impossible to beat in the ratings during her time slot. Today, Oprah is one of the wealthiest people in the world and one of the most recognized. She exploded the glass ceiling in the daytime talk show field that was dominated by males. She made a living giving a voice to the voiceless in a compassionate, non-exploitive way and we are all richer for it.