This was our first encounter but I'm determined to make sure it's not our last. I will cross paths with Ms. Winfrey again one day soon. Universe hear my prayer.
I love me some Oprah just as much as I love Gayle. As my kids would say, they're both amazeballs.
I grew up with Oprah. She’s been a huge part of my childhood. I'd rush out of school to make sure that I was home by 4pm so I wouldn't miss her show. As a tween, most of the topics were beyond my mental capacity, but I didn't care. I was awestruck. On Sunday nights my mom and I would cuddle on the couch and watch as she portrayed Ms. Maddie Micheal, the matriarch of Brewster Place. "You told Harpo to beat me?All my life I had to fight..." is a monologue that I recited over and over since watching The Color Purple all those years ago. I could go on and on because if you haven't noticed by now, I kind of idolize her.
When we were younger, I'd tell my friends that they needed to become Oprah so that I could be their Gayle. After sitting 3 feet away from her, I take it back. I want to be Oprah!!!
Maya Angelou must have been thinking of her friend when she penned Phenomenal Woman. Every remarkable thing you think she is, is 100% true and I captured that in only 5 minutes.
When I heard that HBO was telling the story of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (airing on Saturday April 22nd at 8PM), I started researching and what I found was fascinating. When they announced that Oprah was playing the lead, I jumped in head first because anything she touches is golden.
As the New York City premiere was drawing near, my excitement grew. I was involved, but only from a distance, which was fine with me. When we found out that she doing interviews, I was able to move a little closer because I had to coordinate a few things.
In the midst of all the planning, there was a knock on my imaginary door. Opportunity was hunting me down. After a while, it started beating on the door. I was at a crossroads. Do I answer? or Do I peek out the window, then hide in hopes that it thinks I'm not home? Everything in me was screaming, OPEN THE DAMN DOOR YOU IDIOT. YOU MISS THIS CHANCE AND I'LL HATE YOU FOREVER!!! If I was brave enough, I could get a glimpse of Oprah and possibly have a conversation with her. I was minutes away from punking out but I recalled my mantra - “Life begins outside your comfort zone.” So, against my better judgment, I raised my hand and let the team know that I was more than prepared to represent.
The extent of my role, initially, was to supply the questions for the interview. I read, re-read, memorized and recited them multiple times because to my amazement I would end up conducting the interview. I practiced on Marley who, in her best impression of Oprah, tried to answer questions about cell duplication. To add to my anxiety, I had to think about what the hell I was going to wear? I guess my Burlington Coat Factory and Old Navy wardrobe would have to get me through. After much deliberation, I settled on a yellow skirt with white flowers, a white camisole and black blazer. It was comfortable, but I threw on my Spanx for good measure. I was determined to impress.
On Tuesday morning, I woke up bright and early and headed out, knowing that life would be a little different. I puffed out my chest and held my head a little higher because I WAS MEETING FREAKING OPRAH WINFREY!!! I got on the bus and turned on my "girl you know your the shit" playlist and danced all the way to work. I wanted to get up in everyone's face and shout "IM GOING TO TALK TO OPRAH TODAY, ARE YOU?!!! NOPE" but this is NYC and surely someone would have punched me in the neck. I arrived early and patiently waited for my moment. As I sat down going over my notes, my stomach churned, but you wouldn't have known it. In addition to conducting the interview, I was hosting a few of our affiliates so I had to play it cool.
I knew it was showtime when Oprah’s bodyguard walked by to scope out the area. On his way back down the hall he extended his hand and introduced himself to me. OH MY GOODNESS, I JUST SHOOK THE HAND OF THE MAN WHO GUARDS OPRAH WINFREY. THE HAND THAT PROBABLY SPENDS A LOT OF TIME ON HER LOWER BACK OR SHOULDERS. A few minutes later, from my seat, I could see the silhouette of a tall woman and realized that this is the moment that I’ve been waiting for since my childhood. After I shake it off,I realized that I need to get my ass up because I can't be seated when Oprah Winfrey walks passed me. I gracefully stand up and slowly walk to the other side of my seat. Do I curtsy, bow or place my hand on my heart? I opted for none of the above because that would have made me look like a real groupie or just plain stupid. When she walked pass, she smiled and said something amazing "Good morning. You guys look great." She could have said "Pinky Dinky Doo" and I would have thought it was incredible. She walked into the room and we all get ready for our close up. The first guy walked in and through the wall we hear her sing his name. OH… MY… GOD, SHE'S DOING THE SINGING WORDS THING. PLEASE SING MY NAME, PLEASE SING MY NAME, PLEASE SING MY NAME. The second guy walks in and she sings his name as well.OH SHIT, SHE'S SINGING HIS NAME TOO. IM NEXT, SO SHE’S DEFINITELY GOING TO DO IT!!!
Producer: This is Gabby Shea.
Oprah: Hi Gabby.
Fuck, she didn't sing my name. Damn you Ian, damn you Mike. You guys got all the singing that she was giving out today.
Me: Hello. It's wonderful to meet you. (shaking her hand)
Oprah: Thank you… Do you twist your hair every night?
OH SHIT, OPRAH FREAKING WINFREY IS ASKING ME ABOUT MY HAIR REGIMEN!!!!
Me: Well, when I'm not being lazy. I twist it most nights.
Oprah: Nice, what do you use?
Me: I make my own concoction. I mix oils - coconut, argon, olive and some others.
YOU IDIOT. WHY DIDN’T YO TELL HER THAT YOU’D BOTTLE SOME UP AND DELIVER IT...personally.
Oprah: So, if you don’t twist it at night what does it look like?
Now my husband likes to tell me that I got that Fredrick Douglass look going on when I don’t twist my hair but there was no way that I was saying that to Oprah.
Me: Well, if I don’t twist it, it just lifts higher and higher and then I have a little afro on the top of my head.
Oprah: Ok, good to know.
I wish I’d had all day to talk to her about my hair but the producer was giving me the eye. He was starting to count me down and I had 5 minutes so I had to make it worthwhile.
I asked my first question and success, it came out smoothly. She looked at me intently and gave what I’m sure was a profound answer. It was as if I was having an out of body experience. I was watching myself interact with Oprah Winfrey, from above and couldn’t believe it. I got through question number 2 and the producer indicated that I had 2 minutes left. I started to panic because her answers were substantial and I had to get through at least one more question. When she took a breath, I jumped in “So, you’ve played so many powerful and dynamic African American women - Sophia from The Color Purple, Maddie Micheal from The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Gaynes from The Butler. How does this character compare or contrast to some of the others." She proceeds to answer and speaks profoundly about Deborah Lacks then says “Sophia from The Color Purple is my favorite.”
Me: Mine too.
Oprah: You told Harpo to beat me? All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my uncles. I had to fight my brothers.
OMF’nG, OPRAH WINFREY IS DOING HER SOPHIA MONOLOGUE FOR ME!!! I had to call on God, my angels, Oshun and all of the other spiritual beings that I could think of to keep me from dropping to the floor and kissing her feet. She was in the moment and I’m sure we could have easily been there for hours just chatting like old friends. Through the corner of my eye, I see the producer hold up his fist to indicate that our time is up. Oprah is midway through her answer and there is no way in hell that I’m cutting her off. Nope, I'm here to conduct the interview not to shut it down. That's your job. I will not cut Oprah Winfrey off. No thank you. Not happening. If you want this to be over, you need to be brave.
I eventually found a break in the conversation and thanked her. In those two short words, I was expressing my admiration and gratitude for everything this woman has accomplished. She is an inspiration. She was everything I thought she'd be.
As she walked out, she hugged one of the reporters. If she hadn't been a sweet woman I may have choked her out of jealousy. She then walked passed me and grabbed my hands in that Oprah way and said “thank you, you were great.” I’m sure it’s something that she says to everyone but I will cherish that and the memory of this experience for years to come.