Oprah's stealth philanthropy in Chicago
Chicago and Oprah Winfrey go hand-in-hand.
She built a TV empire here, and there’s no doubt that the media mogul has been a booster for the Windy City.
Oprah lovers make the pilgrimage to her studio, contributing to tourism with dining and hotel stays along the way.
But her legacy is bigger than an economic engine to Chicago.
Oprah's philanthropic legacy in Chicago is vast, but under the radar.
ambi: water fountain outside Millennium Park
There aren’t that many places or things named after Oprah in Chicago, but one of them’s going to last a long time. I’m looking for it in downtown Chicago’s Millennium Park, a showpiece on Michigan Avenue. Here it is Oprah Winfrey name in all caps on a wall. It lists the founders of this enormous park.
Oprah gave a million dollars of her own money to make this park happen, but that’s a fraction of her largesse.
The exact figures for Oprah’s philanthropic impact in Chicago are hard to pinpoint, but one person with some insight on the big picture – is former mayor Richard M. Daley.
DALEY: In so many different ways she’s given. Also quiet ways that no one really knows about. She doesn’t have to have great accolades about this. She just does it.
Well, that’s true, but Winfrey’s Harpo Production company says there is a ballpark figure, and here it is:
Oprah Winfrey has given more than $350 million during her lifetime.
Not all of that went to Chicago, of course.
Her production company Harpo provided a list of Chicago organizations that have benefited from the Oprah Winfrey Foundation and the Oprah Angel Network. According to the city, she gave $5 million to area nonprofits from the Angel Network.
But Harpo list doesn’t outline the rest of the money.
So I made some calls and got a few specifics on Oprah’s Chicago giving.
The Inspiration Café … which helps the homeless … got $10,000.
The Aids Foundation of Chicago got $45,000.
And LaRabida Children’s Hospital received $60,000 .
ambi: school lunchroom
Providence St. Mel is another organization affected by the Oprah touch.
It’s a private school on Chicago’s West Side that educates black students.
Adams: say you, young man, come here. Go in the bathroom and pull up your pants, if not, I’ll pull them up for you.
Paul Adams is the avuncular founder of Providence St. Mel. He says in 1993 Oprah came to the school’s annual fundraiser.
ADAMS: And Oprah Winfrey came up and made some statements that she had a sale of shoes. And she asked me to come and she gave me - I guess it was $597 and as I walked away she said, ‘well I have something else for you.’ And in her hand she had a check for $1 million dollars.
Adams was speechless. The money helped thrust the school in the digital age. She also narrated a documentary on Providence St. Mel.
ADAMS: I just think that Oprah is a combination of a lot of great people. If we had more Oprah Winfreys around this would indeed be a better world.
PALMER: One of the things that very unusual about Oprah is that she gives generously of her own money to charitable causes.
Stacy Palmer is editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
PALMER: She gives so much that she ranks among the 50 biggest donors to charity and has done so for several years in a row and we just don’t see that very often with celebrities.
The other thing that makes Oprah remarkable is that she is black and female, and has her own money. Palmer says many women on the top 50 list inherited money from men.
In Chicago, Oprah’s checks run the gamut: Cabrini Connections; American Library Association; the DuSable Museum, Connections for Abused Women and their Children and Spanish Coalition for Jobs, Inc.
But several of Oprah’s most generous moments aren’t on the list. She once gave heaters to residents in the Robert Taylor high-rise public housing development. When she filmed a movie near Henry Horner – also a public housing development – she set up a scholarship program for youth.
Although Oprah is equated with Chicago, she wasn’t connected to the city socially. She didn’t frequent the local party, philanthropic or black-tie circuit. She saves some of that for Hollywood. The one place Chicagoans might get a glimpse is at her favorite restaurant – RL on Michigan Avenue.
Hermene Hartman publishes N’digo – a weekly that caters to Chicago’s well-heeled black middle class. Her office is blocks away from Harpo. Hartman says people call her -- itching to get to Oprah … and she understands Oprah’s low-key approach.
HARTMAN: I’m sure given her popularity whenever she does something it’s going to make the news, it’s going to have splash to it, it’s going to have sensation to that. You get tired of that, she’s got to live here.
The Harpo camp declined to give an interview about Oprah’s benevolence to Chicago.
But recently the daytime doyenne waxed lyrical about her adopted hometown.
This month, Mayor Daley unveiled an honorary street named: Oprah Winfrey Way.
WINFREY: I just would like to stay thank you to the mayor and also to the city of Chicago for embracing me and allowing me to take a stand and make a stand here in this city. After I moved here, I thought this place is my Tara.
Tara … That’s a reference to the movie ‘Gone With the Wind.’
Oprah went on with her reference to the classic film, saying the main character, Scarlett O’Hara, should’ve known about Chicago.
After all, in Oprah’s words, this is the greatest city in the world.
The Oprah Winfrey Foundation grants to Chicago organizations
100 Black Men of Chicago
Agassiz Elementary School
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
American Heart Association
Art Institute of Chicago
Athletes Against Drugs
Building with Books (BwB)
Byrd Community Academy
Chicago Academy for the Arts
Chicago Global Donors Network
Chicago Public Library Foundation
Children's Memorial Foundation
City Year Chicago
Community Film Workshop
Cook County Public Guardian
Gale Community Academy
Greater Chicago Food Depository
Healthy Families Chicago
La Rabida Childrens Hospital
Millennium Park, Inc
Museum of Broadcast Communications
NATAS Chicago Foundation
National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse
People Reaching Out Center
Providence St. Mel
Rebecca Crown Center
Ryder Math/Science Specialty School
Scleroderma Research Foundation
Spanish Coalition for Jobs, Inc.
St. Joseph's Carondelet Child Center
The Jesse Owens Foundation
The Ounce of Prevention Fund
The Shedd Aquarium
The Three Arts Club of Chicago
Uhlich Children's Advantage Network
Urban Prep Academies
Weizmann Institute of Science Rehovot, Israel
Windows of Opportunity
Young Women's Leadership Charter School of Chicago
Oprah’s Angel Network - Chicago organizations
A Little Bit of Heaven
American Library Association
America's Second Harvest
Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection
The CARA Program
Centers For New Horizons Inc.
Communities in Schools of Chicago
Connections for Abused Women and their Children
Donors Forum of Chicago
Friends of Battered Women and Their Children
Girls In The Game
Healthy Schools Campaign
Heartland Alliance for Human Needs and Human Rights
LEARN Charter School Network
Logan Square Neighborhood Association
Lydia Home Association
Merit School of Music
North Lawndale Employment Network
Northwestern University Settlement Association
Project Match Families Inc.
Reading in Motion
Renaissance Schools Fund
Target Hope College Preparatory Academy
University of Chicago Cancer Research Foundation
University of Illinois Foundation
Women's Global Education Project
Music Button: Max Steiner, Main Title/Tara's Theme, from the CD Gone With The Wind Original Soundtrack, (Rhino)