U.S. and World
Criticisms of Oprah School Are Counterproductive
Various attacks on her character have been commonplace for years, but some of those attacks grew louder in recent months after Oprah's perception of Black men came into question. The long debate about her disdain towards black rappers spilled into the spotlight in late 2006 after Winfrey publicly refused to host hip-hop artists and rappers on her popular show.
Now, more critical remarks are being levied against Oprah regarding her perceptions of inner-city American schools and her efforts to open schools in Africa. Obviously, Oprah can spend her money whenever and wherever she wants. But the abundance of criticisms is a result of her decision to build a $40 million academy for disadvantaged girls in Johannesburg, South Africa. The project has left many Black Americans wondering why she did not spend the money here.
The all girls academy in the small town of Henley-on-Klip, which is south of Johannesburg, aims to give between 150 - 450 girls from deprived backgrounds a quality education in a place where good schools are few in number. Many African state-funded schools are painfully overcrowded, lack basic necessities such as books and adequate bathrooms, and often do not have enough teachers.
Many have been quick to criticize Oprah's philanthropy by questioning her decision to spend so much money on one school. The critics are wondering why Winfrey didn't spread the wealth to multiple schools, and why she chose to spend the money in Africa instead of building schools or education programs for poor kids in America.
But where were these harsh criticisms when Oprah gave $10 million to Hurricane Katrina victims in 2005? No one attacked Winfrey in 1989, 1997, or 2003 when she, through her Endowed Scholarship Fund, gave a total of $12 million to Morehouse College to help approximately 250 young men continue or complete their education and receive college degrees.
There were also no criticisms during Oprah's ChristmasKindness South Africa 2002 -- an initiative that included visits to orphanages and rural schools in South Africa where 50,000 children received gifts of food, clothing, school supplies, books, and toys.
Though the words of disapproval are not meant to diminish the work Oprah has done in Africa, they are disparaging comments and completely ignores her motivation. Oprah's monetary and emotional commitments to Africa's struggling schools is representative of her spiritual guidance, and a part of the promise she made to anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela in 2000 to give African children a better chance at a brighter future. Plans are already underway to build other schools, including a girls and boys school in KwazuluNatal, an eastern province in South Africa.
Oprah's belief that education is freedom, drives her commitment to help educate children - especially disadvantaged Black children. Criticisms of those actions by prominent African-Americans are fruitless and offer no support where much support is needed. Do those African-Americans who openly critique Oprah's generosity offer their own financial support to U.S. or African schools?
It is noteworthy to mention that at no point should it be considered a negative to help deprived children in any state or country. We live in one of the richest, if not the richest country in the world. If we cannot find a way to better educate, support, and teach our own children -- the source of the problem lies within and no amount of money is going to fix it.
While many U.S. schools are in dire need of financial uplifting, spending millions to build those schools won't solve the recurring problems and surely won't change the hearts and minds of kids. When children are more concerned about the latest fashion trends and less concerned about self-empowerment -- it is not hard to see why Oprah would spend her money on a group of students who want books and school uniforms -- rather than those who wish for IPods and sneakers.
But children in the U.S. are not to blame and Oprah already knows that. She also knows that through our wealth and abilities, Americans have a better chance of supporting American children through family upbringing and generation change. Many communities in Johannesburg have virtually no chance to support theirs.
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