Oprah Donates $500,000 to New Jersey High School

Oprah Winfrey donated half a million dollars to a high school in New Jersey for an after-school program that helps keep kids off the street. Winfrey surprised students in a packed gymnasium at West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey on May 17, NJ.com reported. The students were part of the Lights On program, which provides students with a safe place to go on Friday evening from 6 p.m. to midnight. The program has been around for several years and allows students to prepare meals, play games, and do laundry, according to the Jersey Cares website. In the summer months, the program is open on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

The program gained national attention in September 2018 after West Side High School Principal Akbar Cook appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, where he was given $50,000 for the program and a pantry of food for the year. He appeared on the talk show again in March and received an additional $50,000 for the program.

A post on Oprah Magazine’s Instagram stated that the media mogul had previously heard about Lights On on CBS News and wanted to further the program. In the video, Winfrey can be seen talking to students in the gym at the high school.

“I thought, ‘What can I do?’” Winfrey said in the video. “So I’m going to leave here tonight and leave with you a half a million dollars.” Winfrey’s donation will allow the program, now in its fourth year, to run throughout the summer, CBS This Morning reported. In an interview with the news station, Cook said Winfrey’s gift was a true act of love.

"Love is powerful; you cannot underestimate the power of love. They've been showing my kids and me and this community that they love them, and it's gone a long way," Cook told the news station.

During an interview with CBS This Morning, Cook said he could begin to see a change with his students. "My kids felt a sense of pride. It's making them want to be that superstar student and successful citizen that we want them to be, and it's just all because of love, just being consistent and sticking with it,” Cook said. “Most times they didn't have anyone. So, now we all are championing them, and they feel it."

Winfrey has been a longtime advocate of education. The philanthropist opened the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa in 2007 and celebrated its 10 year anniversary in 2017, Variety previously reported. The boarding school accepts students from grades 8-12 and has approximately 290 students, according to the academy’s website.

“My hope was that I would give them an opportunity to see the best of themselves reflected through an open mind, an open heart, to what is possible,” Winfrey told Variety. “And I can honestly say I have achieved that.”

During an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah on April 10, Winfrey said she was considering opening a boarding school in the US for girls during a Q&A with audience members.

“Yes, I’m actually thinking about it,” Winfrey said. “I’m actually thinking about where, and the reason why I called it the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls: South Africa [is that] even then, I was thinking this will just be one. This will be the satellite school and then I will do others.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.