Role Models & Heroes: Oprah Winfrey (2014)

By April 23, 2014November 15th, 2018Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models
The following essay on Oprah Winfrey was written by Samantha Streit, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this can be seen below. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

Samantha Streit
April 5, 2014

Oprah Winfrey explains that when someone receives, it is that person’s responsibility to give back. “When you learn, teach. When you get, give. That is how you change the world. One life, one family at a time.” I always try to follow these ideals, and Oprah is a true example of someone who actually lives these words. To some people, Oprah is a role model, someone who they want to be exactly like. However, Oprah is my hero. I might not want to be a talk show host or own a television network, but I do strive to apply the same values she teaches in my own life.

I admire Oprah’s ability to take risks (l’kee-khat see-koo-neem) and that is why she is a hero to me. She doesn’t care what other people say when they try to push her down. Oprah follows what her heart says and not what society tells her to do, and this is how I plan to live my life as well. Everything Oprah has done was a risk. Moving from a news reporter role to becoming a groundbreaking talk show host, performing as a leading actress, and running her own network helped her to become the richest African-American in the world. These are all risks that worked out and make Oprah my hero.

Hope (teek-va) is a value that Oprah and I both appreciate. Oprah lived through a horrible childhood and if she can still have hope in her life, everyone else can too. Oprah was born in Mississippi on January 29th, 1954. She lived in a poor neighborhood and her life was extremely difficult. Her 19-year-old cousin and other family members sexually abused her many times. In addition to being abused, she felt unloved by her mother, who never showed any affection towards her, and unwanted by her father, who abandoned her. She was treated differently because she had a darker skin color than her family members. Oprah used drugs at various points in her life, and even had a miscarriage after one family member impregnated her at fourteen. She lived with her grandma starting at age four and a half because her mother sent her away. However, her grandma helped to inspire her, give her confidence, and make her believe she could do and be whatever she wanted. Oprah’s grandma’s confidence in her gave her hope. Later on Oprah said, “There is always hope. I didn’t grow up in the projects, but I am the perfect example of someone who came up from zip.”

Oprah and I both remain hopeful through difficult situations even though they may differ. My grandma on my mom’s side passed away when I was ten and my grandpa on my mom’s side passed away when I was almost twelve. Though these situations were extremely difficult, I know my memories of them will always be with me. Staying hopeful about the future and reminding myself what my grandparents did for me and how much they loved me helped me deal with this loss. Additionally, when I hear about mass shootings or families destroyed by hurricanes, I know the affected people’s lives are shattered. I realize that I have an easy life and am fortunate. I appreciate my life more and hope that things will be okay for others. I stay positive and optimistic that life will proceed.

Another value that Oprah and I both believe in is education (chee-nuch). Though Oprah left Tennessee State University in 1975 without finishing her degree, she returned eleven years later in 1986 and received her honorary college degree and gave the commencement speech at graduation. She also donated eleven scholarships in her family’s name because Vernon Winfrey, the man that Oprah always considered to be her father, had always wanted her to finish her college education. Not many people would do that. Oprah thrives on providing education to all those in need. She began a foundation called the “The Oprah Angel Network,” which raises money for up to 127 projects, including education and literacy endeavors. One such project was building a school for girls in Africa. She even began a group for young underprivileged African-American girls called “The Little Sisters,” in which Oprah encouraged the girls in the group to set high standards and go for their goals. One of the two rules was to earn good grades. She wanted to show girls that they needed to have a solid education in order to succeed. Oprah said, “If you do not read or do math…if you drop out of school…And if you get D’s or F’s on your report card, you’re out of this group. Don’t tell me you want to do great things in your life if all you carry to school is a radio.” Although she may be strict, all Oprah wanted to do was push them to have the best life they could possibly have and she, as I do too, knows that education is an important key to the future.

Education and hope are crucial in life, but my passion for the arts (oh-mah-noot), supersedes both, and Oprah is a true champion of the arts. Oprah had her own television show for twenty-five years but wanted to achieve even more. She became the first African-American to buy her own show, and later, the first to own a television network. Oprah strived to achieve even greater things and began to act. She has said that she “feels unbelievably happy when she is acting.” When I go onto a stage, all I feel is joy. The stage, for me, is where I feel the most like myself. This is the same effect the camera has on Oprah.

Oprah received Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations, and earned two Emmy awards. When Oprah believed there were not many roles for African-American women, she bought the rights to the books Beloved, by Toni Morrison and Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, and she turned both into films. Her love of the arts, combined with her drive to succeed and risk taking, helped her do this. She created so many more opportunities for others (and for herself) to be a part of the arts. Acting and being on television are some of Oprah’s greatest passions and I will also continue to do what I love to do, act and be a part of productions.

Although Oprah is one of my heroes, like all people, Oprah has flaws. One flaw is that she doesn’t admit to failure. For example, her Little Sister’s group did not work out because she was too busy to give it the attention the way she intended, but Oprah would not give up or admit defeat. However, this group ultimately failed and it took Oprah a long time to let it go. Additionally, Oprah likes to publicize her charitable donations. She can hold grudges, like deciding not to have children due to her relationship with her mother. She was worried that horrible things would happen to her children, the same way they happened to her. She also can be known to exaggerate things for publicity, like details about her upbringing. It is okay for Oprah to have flaws because everyone does. She is a human and makes mistakes and I admire her for being able to fix her problems and move on despite these mistakes. She has learned from her flaws and continues to improve as a human being because of them.

From this and other aspects of Oprah’s life, there are lessons to be learned. Oprah is her own boss. This takes courage to do alone. Many people would lose confidence or stop trying after problems occur. Whatever Oprah dreams, she makes happen. I can imagine her going to sleep, creating a “to-do” list. Her “to-do” list is to not just “walk the dogs,” it is as incredible as “win an Academy Award” and Oprah works hard to make it happen. Even recently, Oprah refused to stop following her dreams after she was done being a talk show host. She followed through with her love of acting and created the Oprah Winfrey Network. She was the first talk show host to do so. Although the network had lower ratings than expected when it was first released, she was persistent and achieved her goals.

Tzedahkah, however, is the most important lesson that Oprah exemplifies. In Hebrew, Tzedahkah means, “giving back.” Oprah donates an immense amount of money in a variety of ways, such as giving her audience amazing gifts, supporting her family, creating schools, funding various projects, and more. When Oprah thinks about her career, she does not think about the money she earns. Rather, she thinks about the lessons she learned and shared, and how she can touch more lives and give more back.

It is clear that Oprah wants to live a life that can inspire and make a difference. Oprah is my hero for this reason. She has encouraged many to “live their best lives,” and said, “My goal is to uplift, encourage, and empower people. I make no bones about really wanting to make a difference in the world.” I hope that I, too, can be someone who inspires others and makes a difference. I want to be on this Earth for a reason.