Oprah Winfrey

Oprah WinfreyBorn in Kosciusko, Mississippi, Oprah Winfrey was reared by her grandmother on a farm where she "began her broadcasting career" by learning to read aloud and perform recitations at the age of three. From age six to 13, she lived in Milwaukee with her mother. After suffering abuse and molestation, she ran away and was sent to a juvenile detention home at the age of 13, only to be denied admission because all the beds were filled. As a last resort, she was sent to Nashville to live under her father's strict discipline. Vernon Winfrey saw to it that his daughter met a midnight curfew, and he required her to read a book and write a book report each week. "As strict as he was," says Oprah, "he had some concerns about me making the best of my life, and would not accept anything less than what he thought was my best." Oprah Winfrey's broadcasting career began at age 17, when she was hired by WVOL radio in Nashville, and two years later signed on with WTVF-TV in Nashville as a reporter/anchor. She attended Tennessee State University, where she majored in Speech Communications and Performing Arts. In 1976, she moved to Baltimore to join WJZ-TV news as a co-anchor, and in 1978 discovered her talent for hosting talk shows when she became co-host of WJZ-TV's "People Are Talking," while continuing to serve as anchor and news reporter.

In 1991, motivated in part by her own memories of childhood abuse, she initiated a campaign to establish a national database of convicted child abusers, and testified before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of a National Child Protection Act. President Clinton signed the "Oprah Bill" into law in 1993, establishing the national database she had sought, which is now available to law enforcement agencies and concerned parties across the country. Oprah Winfrey was named one of the 100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century by Time magazine.

She is one of the partners in Oxygen Media, Inc., a cable channel and interactive network presenting programming designed primarily for women. In 2000, Oprah's Angel Network began presenting a $100,000 "Use Your Life Award" to people who are using their lives to improve the lives of others. When Forbes magazine published its list of America's billionaires for the year 2003, it disclosed that Oprah Winfrey was the first African-American woman to become a billionaire.


Mother Teresa

Mother TeresaOn October 7, 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, "The Missionaries of Charity", whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. In 1965 the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Pope Paul VI.

The Society of Missionaries has spread all over the world, including the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. They provide effective help to the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they undertake relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes such as floods, epidemics, and famine, and for refugees. The order also has houses in North America, Europe and Australia, where they take care of the shut-ins, alcoholics, homeless, and AIDS sufferers. Mother Teresa's work has been recognised and acclaimed throughout the world and she has received a number of awards and distinctions, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize (1971) and the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding (1972). She also received the Balzan Prize (1979) and the Templeton and Magsaysay awards.

When Mother Teresa received her Nobel Prize, she was asked the question, "What can we do to promote world peace?" She replied...

"Go home and love your family."
-- Mother Teresa


Maya Angelou

Maya AngelouThis inspirational woman is none other than actress, teacher, dancer, and poet-laureate - Maya Angelou. Born in January 1928 she made history by becoming the second poet in this century to read verse at a presidential inauguration. Her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” was requested by then President Bill Clinton and it only added to her well-known repertoire of soul inspiring poetry.

I choose Maya Angelou as an Inspirational Woman because her life has been marked by personal tragedy, hardships and devastating circumstances. However, she rose above them all to teach her greatest lesson to humanity which is her belief in forgiveness and personal evolution. In a journal interview Maya had this to say, “What I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself, because if you live, you will make mistakes. It is inevitable. Only the angels, the cherubim, and about three rocks don’t make mistakes.”

Maya’s work include her award winning books I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, and Gather Together in My Name. She also wrote a screenplay called Georgia, Georgia and became the first black American to see her own script transferred onto the big screen. And we will always remember her feature role in the landmark television series of Alex Haley’s prize-winning novel Roots.

Maya Angelou is a Woman of Inspiration because she has experienced a life of tragedy and success and all the while she has remained grounded and realistic. The early trauma of her life which caused her to silence her voice and the guilt which plagued her for many years to follow enabled Maya to become the amazingly sensitive and astute woman that she is. For more information about Maya Angelou visit www.mayaangelou.com. And now I leave you with these words from Maya:

“You are the only person who can forgive yourself. Once that forgiving has taken place, you can then console yourself with the knowledge that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure … The pressure can make you into something quite precious, quite wonderful, quite beautiful and extremely hard”.

- Maya Angelou


Michelle Obama

Michelle ObamaMichelle Obama was born on January 17, 1964, to Marian and Fraser Robinson on Chicago's South Side and graduated from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago's West Loop. After high school Michelle went on to Princeton University where in 1985 she graduated with a B.A. in sociology and a minor in African American studies. After college, Michelle continued her education at Harvard Law School, where she earned her degree in 1988.

For three years after law school, Michelle worked as an associate in the area of marketing and intellectual property at Chicago law firm Sidley and Austin, where she met Barack Obama. She left the corporate law world in 1991 to pursue a career in public service, serving as an assistant to the mayor and then as the assistant commissioner of planning and development for the City of Chicago.

In 1993, she became the founding executive director of Public Allies - Chicago, a leadership training program that received AmeriCorps National Service funding and helped young adults develop skills for future careers in the public sector.

Michelle began her involvement with the University of Chicago in 1996. As associate dean of student services, she developed the University's first community service program. Michelle also served as executive director of community and external affairs until 2005, when she was appointed vice president of community and external affairs at the University of Chicago Medical Center. She also managed the business diversity program.

Michelle has fostered the University of Chicago's relationship with the surrounding community and developed the diversity program, making them both integral parts of the Medical Center's mission.


Linda Johnson Rice

Lisa Johnson RiceLinda Johnson Rice was the first African American woman to be named chief executive officer of a company listed among the top five of the Black Enterprise 100s, the nation's largest black-owned companies. Johnson Publishing, founded by Rice's father, John H. Johnson, had more than $400 million in sales as of 2002 and was the number one black-owned, privately held publishing company in the world, worth $350 million and employing more than 2,500 people. The company opened the eyes of mainstream American businesses to the multibillion-dollar influence of the African American consumer market by convincing mainstream companies that they would be well served by advertising in magazines aimed at black readers. At the same time, the company played a key role in establishing the careers of many African American professionals in publishing and advertising.

Born in Chicago, Rice developed interests as an equestrian and opera singer. However, she always had a keen interest in the family business. From the age of six, she often went straight from school to the Johnson Publishing headquarters south of Chicago's downtown loop. "It was a giant baby-sitter," Rice recalled (USC Trojan Family Magazine, Winter 2002). As she grew, the young Rice began to play a role in the family business. Her father would often include her in meetings with editors debating about which photos to feature as Ebony covers, and the precocious schoolgirl participated actively in the discussions. In addition, Rice would often travel with her mother to France and Italy to shop for haute couture for the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show that raised money for charity.

Rice attended the University of Southern California (USC), earning a BA in journalism in 1980. She collected her first full-time paycheck in 1980 when she became the fashion editor at Johnson Publishing. Over the next several years she held the titles of vice president, president, and chief operating officer. At the same time, she attended Northwestern University's J. L. Kellogg School of Management, earning an MBA in 1988. Rice's early years at Johnson Publishing were noted by William Berry, a University of Illinois journalism professor who was an editor at Ebony for seven years: "I've watched her career over the years, and she's retained the availability of an ordinary person who has extraordinary access to power and capital" (USC Trojan Family Magazine, Winter 2002).


Vashti Murphy McKenzie

Vashti Murphy McKenzieVashti Murphy McKenzie was born May 28, 1947 and elected as the first female bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She is also the national chaplain of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and the granddaughter of Delta founder Vashti Turley Murphy. McKenzie received a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park. A member of the influential Baltimore family who founded the Afro-American Newspapers, McKenzie followed in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, John Murphy, by becoming a journalist after she graduated from the University of Maryland. Later she received Master of Divinity degree from Howard University and her Doctor of Ministry degree from United Theological Seminary in Ohio.

McKenzie received her first ordination in 1984 when she was made an itinerant deacon and appointed to pastor a small church in Chesapeake City, Maryland. She was later ordained an itinerant elder and was sent to pastor in Baltimore. While serving as the pastor of historic Payne Memorial AME Church in Baltimore, Maryland, McKenzie sought election to the office of Bishop in the AME Church. She was elected and consecrated the 117th bishop of the church at the General Conference of 2000. Prior to McKenzie's consecration, no female had ever served in the office of bishop in any predominantly African-American Methodist denomination in America. In her acceptance speech, McKenzie praised the pioneer work of women who had been trying to become bishops for several decades, saying they had "sacrificed, cried, died and gave their very best. Today, I not only stand on the shoulders of the called-up women, but on the shoulders of my brothers."She currently serves as the presiding prelate of the 13th Episcopal District which encompasses Tennessee and Kentucky. Prior to this appointment, McKenzie was the chief pastor of the 18th Episcopal District in southeast Africa. In 2005, McKenzie again made history by becoming the first female president of the Council of Bishops of the AME Church, and the Titular head of the Church. The president of the Council of Bishops serves a one year term. Each member of the council serves a term as president, assuming the office in the order in which they were elected. When asked about her the significance of her election to the office of bishop, McKenzie reportedly told Ebony Magazine that the "stained-glass ceiling had been broken."

Bishop McKenzie has authored the book Not Without A Struggle: Leadership Development for African-American Women in Ministry. She is married to former NBA player Stan McKenzie; they are the parents of three children.