(Published: Sunday, August 31, 2008)
Winfrey, fresh from the Democratic National Convention in Colorado, breezed into town wearing a long, yellow dress, with boyfriend Stedman Graham, a Whitesboro native, by her side. She was the keynote speaker at the 20th reunion sponsored by Concerned Citizens of Whitesboro.
Hundreds of people braved the heat to hear Winfrey speak and cheered her as she arrived, screaming out her name.
"She's been my inspiration," local resident Debbie Seppy said.
Winfrey's speech included some heavy politicking for presidential candidate Barack Obama.
"I'm here to tell you, I know Barack Obama is the one. He's the one we've been waiting for," Winfrey said.
But she also touched on her poor childhood on a farm in Mississippi, her career rise from a small television show in Chicago to the empire she now commands, the school for girls she opened in South Africa, her faith in God and many other subjects.
She dropped a bombshell at the end of her speech on a day the community had earlier declared "Stedman Graham Day." She noted how Graham, who has been her partner since 1986, talked about Whitesboro when they started dating and how he wanted the town to be all it could be. She said he worked to get sidewalks, street lights, a baseball field and a community center built there.
"I'm committed to help him help this community. Today I'm contributing $220,000 as my first installment in a $1 million plan for the educational scholarship fund of Whitesboro. Keep dreaming ladies and gentlemen, keep dreaming," Winfrey said.
Edgar Robinson, the emcee of the affair, was nearly tongue-tied.
"That's unbelievable. I guarantee we will make it work for the students," he said.
The scholarship fund in this black community normally collects about $15,000 per year. Earlier in the day, Sturdy Savings Bank President Gerald Reeves presented a check for $5,000. But it's kind of hard to compete with Oprah Winfrey, whose net worth has been estimated at $2.5 billion.
For Whitesboro residents, it wasn't about the money. They came to see Oprah, a woman successful in movies, television, magazines and other businesses but who struggles with everyday problems just like they do.
New Jersey Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells had the dilemma of introducing Winfrey, whom she called "our queen Oprah Winfrey."
"Of course, I can't introduce somebody who everybody already knows and loves, who is family," Wells said.
Winfrey, like several speakers before her, pushed education.
"What is important is access to learning. We used to know that. It used to mean getting straight A's didn't mean you were trying to act white. It meant you were trying to act right," Winfrey said.
Noting she normally doesn't get involved in politics, she urged the crowd to register to vote and cast a ballot for Obama, the Democrat Party candidate who is the son of black man.
She also touched on religion, saying prayer worked in getting her the breakthrough role in the movie "The Color Purple," which launched her career.
"With education, most things are possible. With God, everything is possible," Winfrey said.
She also advocated hard work, but again said at some point that isn't always enough and God can be the difference.
"Do all you can do, but then lay it down and give it to the higher power," Winfrey said.
She made the crowd laugh, often joking about weight issues such as early dates with Graham when she ate less than she wanted to, usually salads, to impress him.
She also recalled the time "The Color Purple" director Steven Spielberg told her to eat.
Comedian Joan Rivers, she recounted, had called her fat, so she said she went to "a fat farm" to lose 50 pounds. That's when Spielberg called her to tell her she had the part in his movie.
"He said, 'I hear you're at a fat farm. If you lose one pound you could lose this part.' So I went to a Dairy Queen, and the rest is history."
O. Hell Naw!!!