Tag: The Oprah Effect

BHM: Let’s Honor Oprah! Entrepreneur, Media Maven, Philanthropist, Actor, Influencer… Genius

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Not many people on Earth have their names become synonymous with genius in their profession, let alone genius in general. Einstein, Shakespeare, Mozart, even Spielberg and Prince easily come to mind. Notably, they are all men, mostly White, and only one is known by his first name. But when you say, “Hey, where are the women? What women do you think of when someone says ‘Who are the geniuses?,'” an immediate response would (or should) be… Oprah.

It may seem like opinion, but I want to go on record that saying “Oprah Winfrey is a genius” is a fact, and one that should be touted widely. Oprah’s status as a cultural icon, media mogul and inspirational leader is taken as a given, but when you look back and reflect on her journey from rural poverty in Mississippi to global icon, you too will recognize how much intelligence, excellence and genius it took to get there and what’s more – stay there.

What follows below in regards to recognizable achievement, vision and success rightfully will only add credence to the “Oprah Winfrey is a genius” fact, but I submit that the secret sauce of Oprah’s claim to that title has been best articulated (and realized) by Oprah herself:

Everybody has a calling. And your real job in life is to figure out as soon as possible what that is, who you were meant to be, and to begin to honor that in the best way possible for yourself. – Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Gail Winfrey, originally named “Orpah” after the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth but had it misspelled and mispronounced so much that “Oprah”  stuck, recently celebrated her 65th birthday on January 29, 1954. Winfrey was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to Vernita Lee, an unmarried teenage mother and housemaid, and Vernon Winfrey, a coal miner turned barber turned city councilman who had been in the Armed Forces when Oprah was born.

According to wikipedia.org, Winfrey spent her first six years living with her maternal grandmother, Hattie Mae Lee, who was so poor that Winfrey often wore dresses made of potato sacks, and the local children made fun of her. Her grandmother, ever in Oprah’s corner, taught her to read before the age of three and took her to church, where she was nicknamed “The Preacher” for her preternatural ability to recite Bible verses and command the stage.

Despite parental neglect from her mother, sexual abuse by family members from the age of nine, and the stillbirth of a son at age 14, Oprah’s intellect and ability to speak powerfully in public earned her a full ride to HBCU Tennessee State University on an Oratory Scholarship.

As Oprah honed her skills through education and experience, she became the youngest news anchor and the first black female news anchor at Nashville’s WLAC-TV. Oprah then became an anchor in the larger market of Baltimore, MD before taking over the hosting position of low-rated AM Chicago in 1984.

Oprah aligned her talents, smarts, professionalism and relatability to catapult her over Phil Donahue’s long-venerated talk show Donahue for the top-rated slot. Oprah then wisely took advice from movie critic Roger Ebert to make a syndication deal with King World Media and have ownership in her program – the beginning of the Oprah brand.

The Oprah Winfrey Show debuted September 8, 1986 and topped daytime talk show ratings for 25 years until she retired from the show. Oprah really hit her stride and pinpointed her brand when she followed her instincts in the 1990s to shift away from “tabloid-style” shows to ones with a focus on literature, self-improvement, mindfulness and spirituality. Even though she briefly took a ratings dip during the change, she soared to the top again and outlasted several popular talk show hosts of the time such as Sally Jesse Raphael, Ricki Lake, Montel Williams, Donahue, Jenny Jones, and Jerry Springer. Continue reading “BHM: Let’s Honor Oprah! Entrepreneur, Media Maven, Philanthropist, Actor, Influencer… Genius”

Oprah Winfrey and Former Alvin Ailey Dancer Dwana Smallwood Open Performing Arts Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant

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Dwana Smallwood (back) teaches dance at Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center in Bed-Stuy (photo via 7online.com)

The “Oprah Effect”: we’ve all heard about it, but to experience it is quite a different story.  Your life can change on a dime.  And it did for Dwana Smallwood, one of the premier dancers for Alvin Ailey.

What started as invite from Oprah turned into more than a $500,000 donation to a dancer’s dream.  “Oh my goodness, what a journey from Green Avenue down the street to right now. It’s been an extraordinary journey,” said Smallwood.

It’s a journey that took Smallwood from the streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant to performing around the world as one of the premiere dancers for Alvin Ailey’s elite dance company for 12 years. She is considered one of the best modern dancers since Judith Jamison and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Her power and her grace are electrifying.  “Even though Alvin Ailey is one of the biggest companies in the world, and that was the only place I wanted to dance, and I kept thinking is that my life’s purpose to perform,” Smallwood said.

And that could be enough for some but not for Dwana. So when life came knocking at her door once again, she did as she always did. She danced her way to the next opportunity this time appearing on “The Oprah Winfrey Show”.  But that performance morphed into so much more.  “I said please, please, please would you go to my school in South Africa and teach my girls what you know,” Oprah Winfrey said.

And she did. Her passion took on a new form as a teacher.  But what was supposed to be a one week stay at the school, turned into a four-year odyssey.  “First I was begging for a week. Then I was begging for a year,” Winfrey said.

The lessons extended far beyond dance, even for Dwana.  “It unleashed this person that knew that I could reach young people. I could figure out what’s going on with a young woman and I could help her figure out the brilliance within her,” Smallwood said.

“What she did at my school, she came in to teach dance but she taught them about life, she taught them all of the social emotional skills that we know it takes to really be successful, and not only survive but to thrive in the world,” Winfrey said.

With her mission accomplished in South Africa, home was calling her back.  “I truly love Brooklyn and I love Bed-Stuy,” Smallwood said.

Continue reading “Oprah Winfrey and Former Alvin Ailey Dancer Dwana Smallwood Open Performing Arts Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant”