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Empowerment, entrepreneurship and engagement - Oprah Winfrey shows the way

BY: Anis Haffar

Some are born lucky, with golden and silver spoons. But when one is born shackled by an endemic racist society - and stripped of basic human dignity - what do you do? But to rise, regardless, in iconic proportions, is the stuff miracles are made of. That is the Oprah Winfrey story comparable to a weighty biblical story.

Oprah’s life and grit illustrate the living proof that there is an eminent place for one to fill in the world. There’s always room at the top. However, it’s impossible to rise higher than your thoughts and aspirations. In order to be assured of that distinguished place, one must outline a purpose in thought, dwell upon it non-stop and intensely, and bend one’s best and creative energies toward its realisation. To accomplish any great enterprise the cardinal requirements are vigilant intelligence, tireless industry, and a clear purpose. Always on the job! as they say.

So when Oprah talks, we’d better listen! The following are edited extracts of a presentation Oprah delivered at a women’s empowerment summit on June 7, 2018:

To the highest bidder

“In my living room right now is the painting that I have owned for 30 years; you can google it. It’s called, “To the highest bidder.” It’s at the centre of my house because it actually is the symbolic foundation for my life. The painting is by Harry Rosaline and it’s over six feet tall. It shows a slave woman on the auction block holding her daughter’s hand. And I cannot come in my front door, or I cannot leave without passing that painting. I am reminded of where I come from every day of my life and I am reminded because I never want to forget it.

“And in my library I have framed lists of enslaved African-American people who were in bondage on various plantations listed in the ledgers alongside the cows and the horses and the buggies and the other property. And I pass this list every day, and often I stop in front of it and just speak their names out loud and their ages: Jonas, 11 years old, $500; Sarah, 41 years old, $900; Elizabeth, 57, $800. And I force myself to consider the absurdity and the obscenity of prices being fixed to each one should they be placed up for sale.

“And I sometimes just pause before them with a prayer, particularly before I have to make a big decision about one of my companies, or whether I move forward or whether I stay still. It reminds me - speaking those names out loud - not only of where I have come from but how far I have to go because of them, and it reminds me that I am never alone.”


The artificial boundaries

“It reminds me of what I have come through to get through. And even when I find myself in settings where I am the only black woman, still, that kind of singularity, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. And I gotta tell you it never has made me uncomfortable. I walk into the room just as cool as you please. Because I have always known I was never anywhere God didn’t want me to be. And I’ve had no issues accepting the success or being worthy of what I know I worked for.

“But these days it simply makes me wonder, though, when I’m still the only woman or person of colour sitting at the table. It makes me wonder who has constructed whatever obstacles aimed at keeping them out. Because without artificial boundaries, we would be represented in every room where the criteria are excellence and discipline and determination and vision. We would be there at that table.

“So these moments when I walk into the room just as cool as you please and I’m the only person of colour or I’m the only woman, these are the moments I call on the ancestors to surround me, to sustain me, to strengthen me. I call upon them and I offer myself to them: I say I am here, I am ready and okay; y’all here we go! Because when I walk into any room when and where I enter, I am already more than I was.”

Maya Angelou

“I already embody the truth of Maya Angelou’s wise words when she said, I come as one but I’m as ten thousand. I come as one but I stand ten thousand. I stand not only as ten thousand, I stand as ten thousand to the tenth power. I stand. I stand as a solid rock. I stand. I stand because I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

“And I am more than the seed of the tree that Langston Hughes talked about in ‘the Poor and Negro Mother’. I am the fruit. I am the flower. I am the blossoming tree. And I shall not be moved. Ain’t I a woman? And when I walk with that ten thousand, this is  how I’m carried through life. I am carried through life standing with the 10 thousand. And when I walk with them, I remember something else Maya taught me that Jimmy Baldwin taught her.

“She used to say to me, ‘Baby, your crown has been paid for. All you got to do is put it on your head and wear it.’ So when we come into this museum, we get to see how the crowns were laid for us. That’s what you did for us. You laid the crowns out for us so we can see in plain view. We get to see and feel that sense of connection to the past that allows us to step out of our history and step into a future that is brighter than any of them could have ever imagined.”

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Blog: www.anishaffar.org