Oprah Winfrey consistently appears on Forbes’ roster of the wealthiest self-made women in America. However, this achievement isn’t solely attributed to her own efforts. She acknowledges the pivotal role played by her father, Vernon Winfrey, in guiding her towards success, asserting that he not only paved the way for her accomplishments but also rescued her from perilous circumstances.
Oprah has openly spoken about the significant influence her father exerted on her life, particularly after she began residing with him during her teenage years. While she briefly lived with him and her stepmother, Zelma Winfrey, at the age of eight, it was only at 14 that she permanently moved in. Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding her return were far from joyful. Oprah revealed that after enduring years of familial sexual abuse, she developed an unhealthy relationship with her own sexuality and became pregnant. Her mother, Vernita Lee, initially attempted to send her to a detention center, but due to lack of space, she ended up back with her father and stepmother.
This juncture marked a turning point for Oprah. Alongside relocating to Vernon and Zelma’s home, her infant son, Canaan Winfrey, tragically passed away. Vernon encouraged her to view this as a second chance, an opportunity she wholeheartedly embraced.
Despite the early tragedies in her life, Oprah Winfrey acknowledges her innate intelligence as a child. Yet, it was under the guidance of Vernon Winfrey that she began harnessing her intellect for positive endeavors. She disclosed in a 1986 interview with The Washington Post that prior to reuniting with her father, she was heading towards a potentially perilous path. She candidly stated, “If I hadn’t been sent to my father, I would have gone in another direction. I could have made a good criminal.”
Vernon’s approach to nurturing his daughter’s intelligence was unwavering emphasis on academic excellence. Even when Oprah’s grades were not poor, per se, as evidenced by her receiving several C’s, Vernon was unimpressed. In her interview with The Washington Post, Oprah recounted his explanation that he knew her potential and was resolute in his belief that she should employ her gifts for the greater good.
Predictably, Vernon’s influence on Oprah’s approach to education was profound. Besides transforming her own life positively, she now stands as a fervent advocate for education. This dedication is exemplified through her establishment of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa. In her words, this initiative allows her to serve as a maternal figure to countless young girls in need of inspiration.
Furthermore, Vernon Winfrey’s steadfast commitment to upholding personal values played a critical role in shaping his daughter’s life. Oprah expressed in her eulogy for her father, upon his passing in 2022, that it was his values that made the decision to take her in an obvious one. She reflected that without this, her chances of survival, let alone achieving extraordinary success, might have been significantly diminished. Vernon’s consistent prioritization of his values instilled in a young Oprah the significance of staying true to one’s principles, a lesson that profoundly influenced her own path. This principle has been a cornerstone of her career, as she has consistently advocated for individuals to embrace their true selves and strive to become the best versions of who they are.
In essence, Vernon Winfrey not only saved Oprah’s life but also positioned her for a life that would impact countless individuals worldwide. She has indeed surpassed expectations in achieving this and much more.