Friday, April 6, 2007

How did Howard MANAGE to get Oprah??!

The talk of the town in the District of Columbia is Oprah Winfrey’s decision to speak at Howard University’s 139th Commencement Ceremonies. The billionaire talk show host/entrepreneur/philanthropist/world idol/midas extraordinaire is an ideal and coveted speaker for commencements across the nation. Winfrey, who made her way with only a high school diploma, received an honorary degree from Tennessee State University in 1987 after delivering their commencement address, and Howard plans to grant her an honorary doctorate in humanities. Most Howardites are thrilled, some hoping for car keys or even the newest addition to her book club to be found underneath their seats. The Associated Press reported that the school’s president Patrick Swygert says that they are “blessed” to have Winfrey speak.

Amidst it all, however, along with the creases of eyebrows from envious spectators, is the question that has been run with all Associated Press articles, and raised by publications like The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Chicago Tribune, since the announcement was raised: “How did Howard manage to get Oprah?!”

When one thinks of a commencement speaker, they aim for someone that is not only financially and personally accomplished, but a great and engaging speaker. Oprah Winfrey, what most call the queen of television, and a communications genius, is then the crème de la crème of commencement orators—the best that an audience could ask for (with the exception of Bill Cosby; High Point University 2007, and Bill Gates; Harvard University 2007). How did they manage to get her?? Meaning… how could this old black school in the middle of the ghetto with conflicts within the administration, indigent facilities, a failing medical school, and a president that’s under scrutiny and possible termination for budget handling get the best?

The only explanation given of how the school may have “landed” Oprah is that Dianne Atkinson Hudson, who is on Howard’s Board of Trustees, is also one of Oprah’s advisers.

This is where the peculiarity comes in. It is extraordinarily strange to me that apparently the American public sees NO connection between Oprah Winfrey and the little black school on the hill. “What could our Oprah possibly want to do or have to say to them that she couldn’t tell us first???” It is as if the attainment of wealth and prominence are some sort of sandpaper that wipe away our assumed imperfections, and cure our blackness and all things associated. Although Howard has a great reputation, making the Princeton Review’s top 100 schools for almost a decade, and sustaining the public view of the school with “smart black children”, it is still that; black. Therefore, what reason does she, Oprah Gail Winfrey, a genius in thought and deed, a woman who has been cleared, redeemed of any shortcoming that may have come with the color of her birth, choose to go there? How did they, the number one producer of African American Ph.D.'s in the nation, manage to get her? How did they, the educators of Thurgood Marshall, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, Ossie Davis, and Roberta Flack, legends whose lives gave precedent to her success, and whose stories she hails as heroic and noble, manage to get her? How did they that pioneered a movement that allowed the seating of multi-racial audiences at her shows, and the luxury of shaking her hand in public without embarrassment manage to get her? How could they that ushered the tutorages of thousands of “smart black children” in a time when they were rejected by everywhere else, mocked for their attempts at enlightenment, and covered with sandpaper bruises manage to get her?

It is with the attainment of wealth that assumed imperfections are erased. How did Howard manage to get her? Who knows?

-Wayetu Moore

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