Before I tell you how, I have to give the backstory about why it means so much.
As a journalist I get to meet celebrities pretty regularly and I don’t get starstruck too often. But there’s one celebrity who if I met her, I knew my outlook on the world would change- and that’s Oprah Winfrey.
Oprah has been my sheroe since as early as I can remember.
As a kid with busy working parents, everyday after middle school I would come home to plop on the couch to watch The Oprah Winfrey show at 4pm. While the Ricky Lakes’, Maury Povich’s and even Jerry Springers’ of the world were cool to catch, it was Oprah’s show that gave me soul-nourishing life.
I’d learn something new from each of her interviews with legends, dance along with musical guests, shake my head at Tom Cruise jumping all over her couch, wipe a tear as a family in need got a new home, nod with satisfaction during her legendary makeovers and jump up and down like I got a new car too when it was giveaway time.
I was a preteen girl. Theoretically I should’ve cared about nothing more than TRL or 106th & Park. But not so with The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Oprah represented the best of the American Dream. I’d read about the odds she overcame in her childhood, the people who counted her out early in her career and the internal struggles she battled to find self-acceptance and peace.
Her journey- from rural Mississippi to Miss Fire Prevention winner, news reporter to morning show host- in many ways felt similar to my own journey:
I was born and raised in the small city of Syracuse, NY. I found my voice and won scholarships at an early age doing oratorical competitions for the local American Legion post.
(Me at 17 doing some oratory at the 2004 Hip Hop Summit in Syracuse.)
After soul-searching through the first years out of college, from hedge fund to the classroom to the policy sphere, I finally went for my dream of becoming a broadcast journalist, and took my first job as a local reporter.
Like Oprah, I encountered struggles in the newsroom that pushed me to find my true voice as a journalist elsewhere.
Oprah described her early days reporting in Baltimore like this:
"I had no idea what I was in for or that this was going to be the greatest growing period of my adult life. … It shook me to my very core, and I didn't even know at the time that I was being shaken."
I know exactly what she means.
But even before then, Oprah was speaking to me, telling me to find my way.
In 2013, during my 5-year college reunion, I returned to Harvard a day early just to hear Oprah and my other sheroe journalist, Soledad O’Brien, speak.
That year I’d been accepted to a business school preparation program but had gotten into a graduate school for journalism after applying on a whim- and had to make a decision about where to go.
Would I leave comfort, security and a promising path in social entrepreneurial leadership to pursue journalism? At a time when layoffs were happening, the industry was changing, and I would have to start over again?
This is what she said to close her speech that gave me the answer:
From time to time you may stumble, fall, you will for sure, count on this, no doubt, you will have questions and you will have doubts about your path. But I know this, if you’re willing to listen to, be guided by, that still small voice that is the G.P.S. within yourself, to find out what makes you come alive, you will be more than okay. You will be happy, you will be successful, and you will make a difference in the world.
About four years after that speech, I know she was right.
Choosing to go after my dream was the best thing I could’ve done, and no matter the struggles of trying to make a career in journalism, I’ve always found my way.
And this week, I finally met the woman who changed my life.
Thanks to OWN Network (and some very special people who noticed my interest), I was flown to Los Angeles, CA to watch the Queen Sugar Season Finale Special after show.
Arriving on the OWN lot in our black chauffeured truck, I was on cloud nine sitting next to my fellow journalists- Keyaira Kelly from HelloBeautiful, Brande Victorian from Madame Noire and Panama Jackson from VerySmartBrothas.
As soon as we walked inside, I heard Panama say, “There goes Oprah.”
I thought he was joking and didn’t even bother to turn around quickly- but once I did, I saw her quietly sneaking away to the red carpet area.
I pretty much hyperventilated right then because I WAS LOOKING RIGHT AT HER but was also heartbroken I just missed her.
Seeing what a large affair this was turning out to be- hundreds of guests and camera crews- it hit me that maybe I wouldn’t be meeting my idol after all...
So I focused on covering the finale event, sitting in the back rows with the rest of the press, taking notes and capturing photos of the inspiring, hilarious and deep conversation about Queen Sugar's power as a TV show.
After the taping, we hopped back in the truck to head to the OWN after party at SohoHouse's garden rooftop, a private affair for the cast, press and show’s producers.
And just like that, not even before the room was full, Oprah walked in.
I was actually sitting in a hallway photobooth on a work call, when I saw her shoes walk by underneath the curtain.
I quickly wrapped my call, ran down the hall, scanned the room and walked to the bar where I saw my fellow journalists were already near her striking up conversation.
I joined in. After treating us four to drinks of her favorite kind (she waited for the bartender to pour me one as well), we all toasted.
Our conversation will remain off the record for now, but I did get to tell her what she meant to me and how she inspired my path today.
“You couldn’t ignore the call, huh?” she replied and then proceeded to bless me and my crew with advice and inspiration about walking in our own purpose.
It was perfect. And everything I dreamed it would be.
Not because she is a celebrity, a media legend or a multi-billionaire.
But because I saw a genuine leader and teacher in action.
Because she saw me and heard me and affirmed what I was working for all along made sense.
And because now I see the rest is really up to me. As it always has been.