Saturday, June 4, 2011
Oprah Scholars Pay it Forward With “Sons of Oprah” Campaign
By Vickie G. Hampton
Beyonce’s tribute to the power of girls had her beaming.
Maya Angelou’s original poem that painted in words a portrait of her life had her entranced.
A rousing rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Josh Groban and Patti LaBelle wowed her.
But it was 300 Morehouse Men filing onto stage that moved her.
And Oprah Winfrey cried.
To be fair, tears had welled in the media mogul’s eyes several times. But they dropped and marred meticulously applied mascara when Morehouse Men just kept coming and coming…. from the left and right, the front and back. And
13,000 of Oprah’s friends and admirers in Chicago’s United Center stood and applauded.
Part of its “Surprise Spectacular” show, the penultimate farewell to “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” the sheer magnitude of queues of Morehouse Oprah stunned the woman who has seen it all, done it all.
“You got me,” she said during a commercial break in the deep, melodic voice that for the past 25 years has entertained, encouraged and enlightened the world. “This is newsworthy.”
Winfrey is currently the College’s top donor, having given a total of $12 million since 1989. It was during that year’s Commencement that she declared she wanted to help educate black men.
“When you empower a black man, you light up the world. When you empower a black man, you empower families. You empower his wife. You empower sons. You empower daughters … You light up the world.”
In 1989, then President Leroy Keith ‘61 invited Oprah to Morehouse as the Commencement speaker. After her address, she whispered to him, “Is it okay if my assistant brings my purse to the stage.”
The rest, as they say, is history. She wrote a personal check for $1 million. “I want to help educate black men,” she said.
To date, she has helped educate 415 Morehouse Men, transforming them from financially strapped students who worked extra jobs or contemplated leaving the College altogether to successful businessmen, bankers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, physicians and entertainers.
In 1990, seven young men, each experiencing financial pangs that threatened their education, were chosen as inaugural Oprah Scholars.
Shaka Ameen Amir Rasheed ’93 was a sophomore at the time, working two summer jobs and conducting a letter-writing campaign to try to pay his way through college. But he was still coming up short.
Then, nothing short of a “miracle” happened, he said, when he was one of the chosen.
“To be honest, I cried,” said Rasheed, who now manages a multi-billion-dollar hedge fund. “That’s when I knew I could achieve my goal without worrying about survival and paying bills. It changed my life and the possibilities.”
Brandon L. Douglas ’09 says the summons to appear on one of the final episodes of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” was just another step in a lifelong calling to service, which for him, began when he became an Oprah Scholar.
“It continues to solidify the Morehouse experience and that we are still called for excellence,” he said. “It’s as though we’re stamped for life, to have an excellent life helping others live a purpose-led life.”
Douglas has heeded the call. After Hurricane Katrina, he helped build six homes in Meridian, Miss. And in 2007, while traveling to South Africa as one of the Oprah Winfrey Global Leadership Scholars, he and Mauri Robinson ’09 founded Bridging the Gap, a scholarship fund that has helped 45 South African students pay their $150 yearly tuition.
He plans to revive the Bridging the Gap scholarship. The opportunity to be a part of Oprah’s Surprise Spectacular reignited his passion.
Oluwabusayo “Tope” Folarin ’04 was grateful that perseverance and Oprah’s philanthropy paid off.
In his senior year, he had a grade point average of 4.0. He was only months from being named the College’s third Rhodes Scholar, which allowed him to pursue two master’s degrees at England’s Oxford University and eventually work in Google’s London office for two years.
None of it would have happened save for the Oprah Scholarship. Technical reasons had caused him to lose a previous scholarship, and, though he was working 40 hours a week to pay bills, it was not enough.
“I was persevering,” he said.
Paying It Forward
Imar Hutchins ’92, an attorney in New York, along with Rasheed and E. Robbie Robinson ’98, a Chicago investment firm executive, made up the small band of brothers who spearheaded the “Sons of Oprah” Campaign. Within three weeks of the Surprise Spectacular airing, the scholars raised more than $300,000.
“It’s not just the amount, it’s the intention behind it that gives the blessing,” he said.
That intention is to ensure that promising students receive the funds they need to complete their Morehouse education.
“I keep thinking that $1,400 almost kept me from staying at Morehouse,” said Shaka Rasheed. “I want other alumni to know that little gifts matter, and big gifts help; that we can help provide a life-changing experience in young men’s lives.”
Speaking before a smaller gathering of scholars in Chicago’s Navy Pier just hours before the taping of the show, President Robert M. Franklin ’75 commended the men for passing on Oprah’s gift.
“You are doing something extraordinary with your presence and generosity to another scholarship fund inspired by Oprah,” he said. “This is a ‘generative’ form of philanthropy. Oprah has educated more than 400 Morehouse Men, and now you will help educate a new generation of men.”
Henry Goodgame ‘84, director of Alumni Relations, reminded the scholars that philanthropy must start at home.
“It’s on us to take care of our own,” he said. “We’re Morehouse Men. We’re Sons of Oprah. If Sons of Oprah can’t do it, who can?”
SANDRA M. PHOENIX
HBCU Library Alliance
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