- The Washington Times - Monday, May 9, 2005

Sistagirls, you know it’s got to be the Big “O,” something really outstanding or outrageous or outlandish to get thousands of women to jump (or crawl, in the case of yours truly) out of bed early on a Saturday morning, put on their Sunday best, and stand in lines wrapped around the Washington Convention Center for hours in pastel spike heels and pumps. One group of the “O”-verexcited ladies in line were “O”-verheard saying, “We’re waiting for “Pope-prah,” because “Oprah’s as big as the pope,” a Dove soap representative told me in the “Personal Growth Center” before the main event.

Well, I don’t know about h-“o”liness,” but the “Live Your Best Life” tour, sponsored by superstar Oprah Winfrey and O, the Oprah magazine, was nothing if not ah, “Oprah-rational.”

A simple observer might assume that a pope was inside to draw 5,000 women from as far away as Florida, Maine and California. For several, including a Chicago mother-daughter duo, it was Oprah herself who opened the pearly convention center gates to deliver on their Mother’s Day dream.

The nation’s capital was chosen because the tour has not visited here before. Oprah’s unapologetically sassy text, peppered with cultural “sista” references, appeared geared to a majority-black audience. But the crowd here was equally mixed.

Dressed casually in jean skirts and wearing “Three Generations of Oprah Fans” T-shirts, Camille Gerald, 35, of Hyattsville, surprised her mother, Annie Gerald, and great-aunt, Adeline Smith, both from Boston, with a special Mother’s Day treat “to fellowship with other women and with Oprah up close.” Later, as part of the “O-vation,” they were smiling and clapping as staffers warmed up the audience before Oprah appeared, parted the roaring waters and took to the stage, reciting Maya Angelou’s classic prideful poem, “Phenomenal Woman.”

This faithful flock jubilantly forked over a minimum of $200 — or as high as $500 on EBay — for a chance “just to be in the same room,” or “Oh, my God,” touch the bejeweled hem of Oprah’s lemon-lime designer outfit. The event sold out 10 minutes after tickets went on sale in early April.

During her down-to-earth, aut-“O”-bi-“O”-graphical teach-in, Miss Winfrey attempted to use the obstacles in her own life, particularly as “a colored girl growing up in Mississippi” and with losing weight, as illustrative examples. She challenged members of the audience, writing down her every word, to get still, listen silently, find a passion and a purpose, surrender it to God or “a higher power,” and watch how God improves their lives.

Still, “Don’t try to be me,” she warned. Rather, “Be the best you.” Humbly, if you can imagine, “O” tried hard to downplay her h-“o”liness.” “I’m not anyone special; I’m just obedient,” she said in one of many references to listening to the spiritual directives she “receives from God.” When I asked what she hoped her fans might gain for their admission fee, she seemed sincere in her answer.

“My hope is that every woman leaves here with a greater purpose,” she said.

Miss Winfrey said, “I don’t make a dime [from these appearances]. … I don’t need any more attention or shoes.”

Almost lost in Saturday’s hallowed “O”-peration was the important $25,000 check Oprah’s Angel Network dropped off for the D.C.-based Women Empowered Against Violence Inc. (Weave), which provides a wide range of legal, therapeutic and economic services for local victims.

“Weave doesn’t have anything to do with hair,” Miss Winfrey joked when she recognized the local organization, its staff and its clients, then highlighted the problem of domestic violence during the three-hour m-“O”-tivational program.

“Love doesn’t have to hurt,” she said. “If it hurts, it’s God telling you to move on.”

She uttered those same words to me hours earlier as I stood in my assigned spot behind the ropes in the press line outside the convention center awaiting her 10:30 a.m. arrival. I was told I would be allowed three questions, “specifically to the tour only.” But, at the “O”-pportune moment during a four-minute interview, I asked, “As part of today’s tour program, you are awarding money to a local domestic violence group. Why is this issue important to you?”

She quickly switched gears and demeanor. She rattled off statistics about the number of women and teens — one in four — who are victims of domestic violence and how important it is to get out the message that women don’t have to tolerate abuse.

For an “O”-pulent second, I felt like we were actually talking Sistagirl to Sistagirl.

When she worked at a Baltimore television station, Oprah said during the public program, “I was trying to hold back a Datsun Z because he said he was going to leave me.”

Lydia Watts, executive director of Weave, was accompanied by six clients, including two “mature women” who left long-term abusive marriages and are group therapy members.

With the Oprah’s Angel Network grant, Miss Watts plans to enhance the emergency loan fund and expand support and coaching groups “similar to delivering Oprah’s message of helping people to set and reach goals, whether that’s a better relationship or going back to school, to enable them to live their lives more fully.”

Miss Watts said, “It certainly helps to have [Oprah] talk about Weave in front of thousands of women about both the services and the work we do and how they can help us.”

It will take more than a two-hour pep talk — even from Oprah — for many women, like her abused clients, Miss Watts said, to act on the good feelings generated from the tour to continue the long, hard task of changing their lives. Indeed, they need a sustained support system like Weave, which needs the help of more donors and volunteers.

Talk about finding an overwhelming, outstanding, “O”-versized passion and a purpose.

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