MIDDLE TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) –– Media mogul Oprah Winfrey has pledged $1 million to an educational scholarship fund for students in the rural New Jersey hometown of her longtime boyfriend.
Winfrey was the keynote speaker Saturday at the annual community festival in Whitesboro, a tiny community founded in 1901 as a settlement for blacks leaving the South. The event drew hundreds of area residents and fans of the television show host, who touched on many topics during her talk but focused on the importance of education and how people can use it to reach their goals, just as she did.
“What is important is access to learning. We used to know that,” Winfrey said. “It used to mean getting straight A's didn't mean you were trying to act white. It meant you were trying to act right.”
Near the end of her speech, Winfrey noted that her boyfriend, Stedman Graham, had told her about Whitesboro when they started dating. He often spoke of how he wanted the town to be all it could be, and Winfrey said Graham had worked to get sidewalks, street lights, a baseball field and a community center built in his hometown.
“I'm committed to help him help this community,” Winfrey told the crowd. “Today, I'm contributing $220,000 as my first installment in a $1 million plan for the educational scholarship fund of Whitesboro. Keep dreaming ladies and gentlemen, keep dreaming.”
Edgar Robinson, the festival's master of ceremonies, was thrilled by Winfrey's generosity, noting that the scholarship fund normally collects about $15,000 a year.
“That's unbelievable,” he told The Press of Atlantic City. “I guarantee we will make it work for the students.”
Winfrey drew many laughs while speaking about her early dates with Graham and the tabloid media's fascination with her weight, but she turned serious while urging the crowd – which greeted her with screams and loud applause – to support Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
She also stressed the importance of hard work, but also told the crowd that religion could and should be important in their lives.
“With education, most things are possible,” she said. “With God, everything is possible.”
Photo: Oprah Winfrey