Oprah Winfrey’s Fortitude

Oprah Winfrey is the definition of resilience from not being able to afford clothes as a child and wearing potato sacks to becoming one of the world’s wealthiest and admired women proves that. (Elkins 2015) The road was not an easy one, but she navigated each bump to make it to the top. Opera’s childhood was tumultuous from not having a stable home, moving from family member to family member, and being raped at the young age of 9 does not provide a strong foundation for success.

Oprah was born on January 29,1954, to a poor farming family in Kosciusko, Mississippi. (Fry 2019) Her mother left her to live with her grandmother so she could go and find work in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and planned to send for Oprah once she was settled. Hattie Mae Lee, Oprah’s grandmother was the one who encouraged her love of books and taught her to read at the young age of 3. When she started kindergarten at the age of 5, she was quickly promoted to the first grade due to already knowing how to read and being ahead of the rest of her class. (Fry 2019) When Oprah was 6 Hattie fell ill and she was forced to go live with her mother and half-sister in Milwaukee. The stable environment she was used to was no more and the years to come would not fare well for her. Her mother worked long hours cleaning houses and they had to rely on welfare just to afford the bare necessities. This went on for a year before her mother sent her to live with her father and stepmother in Tennessee. They welcomed her with open arms since they were unable to have children of their own.

The stability she performs best in was back in her life and once again when she was enrolled in school, she was allowed to skip a full grade due to being advanced. The family attended church regularly and Oprah would do public speaking very often. After completing the third grade Oprah went to visit her mother for the summer but when her father came to pick her up, she wanted to stay with her mother. At 9 years old while living with her mother Oprah was sexually assaulted for the first time by her 19-year-old cousin. She did not tell anyone and kept this information from her parents and within a few years, she was also raped by a family friend and uncle and once again kept this information from anyone. After enduring these sexual assaults and having no one to talk to she started to act out by skipping school, stealing money from her mother and running away. Her mother was not able to deal with this behavior and decided to send her back to live with her father. (Fry 2019)

At the age of 14 years old, she moved back with her father and this is where she would stay, he provided direction, discipline, and structure and this is where she started to thrive. After realizing she could no longer hide her pregnancy after 7 months she opened to her father and on the same day went into labor. The baby boy was born premature and only survived for 2 weeks. (Fry 2019) Now that Oprah has survived the sexual abuse and overcome the pregnancy and loss of her son, she is now on the right track to make positive changes in her life. She is focused on school and starts to do public speaking again going on to win a full scholarship from the Elks club in 1970. This supports the fact that with the right attitude and tools anything is possible.

By the age of 19, she was already achieving milestones like becoming the first black female news anchor and her success only continued from there. Oprah landed the co-anchor position in Baltimore where she ended up being sexually harassed and humiliated on the job. This did not last long since she was fired after only after a little over seven months on the job. This still did not keep her down and she went on to host the show AM Chicago one of the lowest-rated talk shows on air. She turned that into the highest-rated talk show, and it became what we now know as “The Oprah Winfrey Show”. (Elkins 2015)

Always remembering where she started has been the focus of her philanthropy efforts which also contributes to her success. Oprah has proven time and time again that she is resilient by not letting the poor economic means she was born into keep her there. She struggled through sexual abuse at a young age, into her teens and even in adulthood and did not let it hold her back. Oprah is known for giving back and supporting needs that are dear to her heart. One of her major charities is an all-girls school located in South Africa named “The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls”. She has donated over 140 million to these underprivileged girls’ education and provides all necessities including living expenses, school uniforms, braces and more. (Woods 2019)

To see someone start with so little and become one of the richest women in America is an amazing accomplishment. To add more to her resilience is how much she helps others and gives back to the community. Success in life is not only what you accomplish but how you have an impact on those around you. Oprah has definably had an impact on many and continues to help give back to those in need since she is very familiar with not having much in her early years. This is proof of why I picked Oprah as a person with resilience because she was able to escape her past and have such a positive impact on the world today.


  1. Elkins, Kathleen. “From Poverty to a $3 Billion Fortune – the Incredible Rags-to-Riches Story of Oprah Winfrey.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 28 May 2015, www.businessinsider.com/rags-to-riches-story-of-oprah-winfrey-2015-5. (Elkins 2015)
  2. Fry, Elizabeth. “Did Oprah’s Childhood Shape Her Career?” LiveAbout, LiveAbout, 22 Aug. 2019, www.liveabout.com/childhood-biography-of-oprah-winfrey-2535832. (Fry 2019)
  3. Woods, Laura. “Here Are All the Ways Oprah Winfrey Gives Back.” GOBankingRates, Toggle Navigation Back, 9 Sept. 2019, www.gobankingrates.com/net-worth/business-people/how-oprah-winfrey-gives-back/#5. (Woods 2019)