The reason you are reading this right now is because someone made a decision to ask me to write it. Someone knew my heart, which is neither a liberal heart nor a conservative heart, and had a feeling in their gut that I might want to write a few words about the person whom I think of as the greatest talk show host I’ve ever experienced.
Oprah Winfrey knows how to tell a story better than anyone alive. She gets into the heads of her audience by transporting them into hers. She does it through her language, her cadence, and her authenticity.
Those are the sources that power her story. They were on full display Sunday, Jan. 7, at the Golden Globes when she took the stage and opened up the human imagination with her personal story.
“In 1964, I was a little girl sitting on the linoleum floor of my mother’s house in Milwaukee watching Anne Bancroft present the Oscar for best actor at the 36th Academy Awards. She opened the envelope and said five words that literally made history: ‘The winner is Sidney Poitier.’ Up to the stage came the most elegant man I had ever seen. I remember his tie was white, and of course his skin was black, and I had never seen a black man being celebrated like that. I tried many, many times to explain what a moment like that means to a little girl, a kid watching from the cheap seats as my mom came through the door bone tired from cleaning other people’s houses. But all I can do is quote and say that the explanation in Sidney’s performance in Lilies of the Field: ‘Amen, amen, amen, amen.'”
WATCH BELOW: Oprah Winfrey’s Golden Globes speech calls for ‘new day’
Maybe you didn’t know that Winfrey beat unbelievable odds. Even if you didn’t know thatWinfrey went from living on what used to be called the “wrong side of the tracks” to becoming one of the wealthiest people in America, you would know from that one paragraph of her speech that Oprah Winfrey knows how to take the stage and own it.
The most important stage for a communicator isn’t the artificial one created in a ballroom at a Hollywood Hotel or in a Chicago TV studio. The reason Winfrey went from the outhouse to the penthouse is because she knows how to play the stage inside the mind of every man, woman and child who is exposed to her storytelling.
I didn’t grow up on the wrong side of Milwaukee. For me it was the wrong side of Montreal. We, too, had linoleum floors. And it wasn’t good linoleum. It was cheap and rough and ragged. It was the stuff the linoleum factory would practically give away because it didn’t come out right.
I lived in a world where my immigrant mom worked in a bakery and came home bone tired after washing the bakery fridge, countertops and floors — scrub, scrub, scrub, down on her hands and knees.
But all that mattered to me was that my mother would come home alive at the end of her long day. Her coming home meant everything to me because I was aware, every day of my childhood, that when my mother was a kid, her mother didn’t manage to come home one day.
When my mother was nine, the Nazis took her mother away to a concentration camp, where they worked her to the bone. My mother, for the longest time, didn’t know whether she would ever see her mother again. And when she did, she could hardly recognize her. Though my grandmother had survived, she was down to 75 pounds. A vigorous, healthy, lively woman had been turned into a skeleton who could barely lift a knife to butter her stale bread and who needed my mother to do it for her.
Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globes did something that, in our current political environment, some consider dangerous. She thanked the press and the media for telling stories that need to be told.
We all know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice, to tyrants, to victims, and to secrets and lies.
I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times. Which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.
I don’t know whether Winfrey will run for President of the United States — more than once, she has publicly dismissed the notion of seeking the nation’s highest office.
But if she does run, she will not spout the predictable left wing or right wing talking points that have dulled down and dumbed down democracy in the United States, and tragically, in our own country as well.
Professional spinners on both sides of the aisle have managed to suck the oxygen out of real human beings, turning them into cartoon characters.
It’s what plays well in 30-second TV ads, and three-minute TV reports and three-minute talk show interviews. And it never allows people to see their fellow beings who are running for office as real people. The thinking is this: “If I can make my opponent less than a real person, I am then entitled to beat them up in media and beat them at the ballot box.”
LISTEN BELOW: Will we see Oprah Winfrey run for president in 2020?
Winfrey turned away from that kind of TV a long time ago. She figured out how to generate an audience by telling real stories about real people. Instead of beating up on them, she exalted them. The TV audience was starved for an uplift. They were tired of the cheap linoleum.
There are many who say America doesn’t need another celebrity in the White House. I will never view Winfrey as a celebrity. I will always see her as someone who is celebrated for all the right reasons. She has inspired millions to tell their stories, to feel their feelings, to be bolder and brighter, to read books — good books that are more than the cheap linoleum lines that today’s politicians use to tear their opponents down without ever lifting the citizens up.
Because of the life that my mother experienced, she almost never cried. Crying was a luxury she felt she could not afford in a world where she witnessed the worst of the worst that tyranny could serve up, including the deportation of her mother, and the state-ordered murder of several members of her extended family, some of whom were toddlers. She saw crying as weakness, because she saw how the brutes treated those who dared to shed a tear. So I almost never saw my mother cry.
One day I happened to be in the living room when Winfrey told a story about her own childhood and the abuse she endured from her tyrant. And for the first time that I can remember, I watched my mother sob like a baby. Those tears had been in the waiting room of her mind for decades.
Thank you Oprah. Me too, Oprah. Please keep telling the tyrant that his time is up.
This son of a mother, this grandson of a grandmother, this husband of a wife, appreciates you and loves you more than you know.