Oprah Winfrey’s name has been buzzing (and #trending) since last night with speculation flying wildly from all corners about a potential run for President in 2020. I did not watch the Golden Globes broadcast but I did watch a video of Oprah’s acceptance speech for the Cecil B Demille award and there is no doubt that she energized the room of celebs last night as well as many of the millions watching from home or catching the video clips this morning. I’m including the speech for anyone who may still not have seen it.
I was an avid watcher of the Oprah Show for decades. From my high school days all the way through my first 6 years of motherhood, Oprah was there. Her final episode aired when my oldest son was six and I was in what would be the final year of my seven year stint as a stay-at-home-mom. I relied on Oprah. (And Curious George!) One of the things I most appreciated—and continue to appreciate—about Oprah is the focus she has always placed on education and her willingness to say that we need to do something differently. She never shied away from the controversy of charter schools or teacher tenure because she cared about kids (and common sense) more than the senseless squabbling of adults. I can’t ever remember her reflecting on her life story without citing education as the reason for it all. For Oprah, education is freedom. And it is her passion. It is THE THING that she decided would allow her to make the biggest difference, long term, with her philanthropic dollars.
And let’s remember, it was teachers on stage and in the audience the day she shocked the world and gave every single one of them a car.
Presidential candidates rarely talk about education because experts and pundits (and voters!) tell them that Americans don’t vote on education issues. It’s maddening, I know. But Oprah could change that. At the height of her show, she talked with brutal honesty about the gut wrenching statistics that surround this country’s Black boys and young men. She celebrated the broken cycles of poverty and dependency as well as the liberty that only education can provide. She spent twenty six years on her set being inspired by phenomenal educators and sharing that inspiration with all of us. We met some of the boldest, most courageous, and hardest working educators on her show. I remember running out to buy their books (these were the pre-Amazon days) after seeing them on the show. But perhaps more than anything, Oprah celebrated people who believed in children. All children. Because she believes that children rise to the expectations set for them. And she knows that children are capable of amazing things even when they are poor and Black like she was, sitting on the linoleum floor and watching Sydney Poitier win the Oscar in 1964.
Oprah Introduced Me To…
Ron Clark: An educator who has worked with disadvantaged students in rural North Carolina and New York City and founded the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.
Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin: Co-Founders of the KIPP Foundation. More than 87% of the KIPP students come from low income families. To date, more than 90% of the KIPPsters graduated high school and more than 80% have gone to college.
Michelle Rhee: A former educator and advocate for education reform. She was Chancellor of the Washington, D.C. public schools from 2007 to 2010. Founder of the nonprofit ‘Students First’.
Geoffrey Canada: Since 1990, he has been the president of the Harlem Children’s Zone in Harlem, New York, an organization that states its goal is to increase high school and college graduation rates among students in Harlem.
The truth is that as I look back now I realize that Oprah Winfrey played a part in my own journey from teacher to mom to school committee member to education advocate. She helped me to see the disparity in resources, facilities, and expectations around race and income. She introduced me to the high school valedictorian who struggled to pass her classes during her freshman year of college. More recently, she helped me to understand the tremendous courage of Malala Yousafzai who risked everything so that girls around the world may become educated.
I miss Oprah. I have no idea if any of the hysteria over her potential candidacy for presidency in 2020 is legitimate or complete fantasy. But I do know that if she were to decide to run for the president, she’d be my best hope—ever— for a presidential candidate who will speak truth to power when it comes to educating America’s children. Especially the children who we, as a nation, have failed for so long.