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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Down-to-Earth angel digs in to lift needy

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Down-to-Earth angel digs in to lift needyDown-to-Earth angel
digs in to lift needy

If one is interested in the direction of American civilization and the uplift of those who are down, one eventually has to address Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey could only have developed into what she is in the U.S., where her career appears to be something of a miracle to those who have followed her evolution closely. She is not only the most powerful woman on Earth but, for all of her wealth, sumptuous luxury and influence, she remains a down-home Mississippi woman full of mother wit and new age inclinations.

Above all, she is a complex social angel who actually seems obsessed with the idea of being as good as one can, refusing to stay down no matter how hard one has been hit, and supporting those in the world who stand up and give no quarter to the demons they must face.

That is why one of Winfrey's greatest early contributions was helping to lift the veil of shame from the victim of rape and put it on the rapist, where it always belonged. Winfrey has taken this even further in her recent support of the Ithuteng school, which is of revolutionary importance in South Africa. Its founder is one of those remarkable women who seem to rise from the Earth to focus on rooting out crippling sorrow and despair.

At Ithuteng, the objective is pulling up young girls who have been raped and boys who have become menaces through drugs and violent crime. Rape carries with it the plague of AIDS, which even the inarguably great Nelson Mandela ignored during his eight years as president. There is also the problem that black South African women have written about: the enduring, primitive superstition of men who believe they can cure themselves of AIDS by having sex with virgins.

Winfrey became aware of this school because the comic actor Chris Tucker went there and brought its founder back to America for the BET Awards. Winfrey has been searching out schools in America deserving of financial support. But the interest sparked by the meeting led Winfrey to fly to South Africa, where she was so impressed that she gave the school a million dollars. Her mere presence kicked the South African government out of its willed slumber and it is now attempting to involve itself with the project.

Though Winfrey is not included in "Ithuteng," a film about the project that won the humanitarian film award at the 2005 Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, it makes clear how much the urban blight of modern Africa - though much worse - seems to mirror that with which we have become familiar in America.

At a recent dinner following the screening of the film, which still seeks a distributor, I sat with Gayle King, Winfrey's best friend, who accompanied her to South Africa. King recalled how their souls shook with awe at what they witnessed. But what was most important about that evening is how much it expressed Winfrey's vision. The film was made by two young men, Willie and Charlie Ebersol, was partially edited by their mother, the actress Susan Saint James, and was bankrolled by their dad, Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports. That is the sort of engagement by people in high places that Oprah Winfrey symbolizes, inspires, and is inspired by herself. It is key to the meaning of contemporary civilization.

Originally published on June 27, 2005

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