When Oprah Winfrey delivered her acceptance speech for receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes on Sunday night, the impact was electric, both in the room and on social media. (I know the tendency, especially when time is tight, is to skip over the links in a post, but if you haven’t seen Oprah’s remarks, do yourself a favor, connect to the link, and watch; you will not regret it.)
In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the burgeoning #TimeIsUp campaign, Oprah managed to strike a chord that went far beyond the issue of sexual violence in the workplace, beyond race and gender, beyond any particular historical moment and cut to the very core of what it means to be an aspirational human being in turbulent times.
Accolades flooded in, along with a host of immediate calls for her to run for President in 2020. While this is an intriguing thought, 2020 is a long way away and a lot can happen. Still, one might ask: why the clamor over Oprah’s speech? The answer lies beyond the words themselves, even though they were meticulously crafted and brilliantly delivered. It speaks to the deep longing in our land for leadership, for someone to seize the moment—no, to create the moment—out of God’s unfolding history that constantly presents us with opportunities to claim our better selves.
Firmly, but without rancor or recrimination, Oprah delivered a message that captured this longing while captivating her audience. She artfully affirmed “the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice” and thanked the courageous women who “felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories.” She went on inclusively to offer grateful praise to “women whose names we’ll never know. They are domestic workers and farm workers. They are working in factories and they work in restaurants and they’re in academia, engineering, medicine, and science. They’re part of the world of tech and politics and business. They’re our athletes in the Olympics and they’re our soldiers in the military.”
Oprah then drilled down to one specific case: Recy Taylor who was gang raped in 1944 by six armed white men in Abbeville, Alabama who threatened to kill her if she ever told her story. Ultimately, she did tell it and was defended by the NAACP. A young worker, Rosa Parks, was assigned to her case. Oprah connected these two brave black women of generations past to the struggle for identity, empowerment and validation in today’s world. (I have recently been asked to serve on the Board of Odyssey Networks, executive producers of the documentary, The Rape of Recy Taylor, currently in film festivals. You can see a trailer here. Look for additional information on this compelling film in subsequent posts.)
How refreshing it was to witness this iconic figure challenge us all–without regard to race, religion or political persuasion—to work toward a different reality, where all might experience justice and human dignity. Opportunities to lift us up occur in our country all the time. We have just been so bereft of imaginative and courageous leadership, so devoid of a coherent, cohesive call to action, that when someone steps up and steps out, we become startled into remembering who we once were—and can become again. And so we immediately think: if only she held the office of the Presidency, then “the new day on the horizon” to which she calls us would truly be filled with promise of being a better day than today.