Interview: Producer Kimberly Brooks Revisits First Class Of Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy 10 Years Later In ‘O Girls’
Ten years ago, mogul and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey opened The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG), a school that would provide a once in a lifetime education and opportunities to South Africa’s most impoverished but intelligent girls. Winfrey said of her decision, “I wanted to help girls who really wanted it. They could see the possibility for themselves, if only. If only they had the means to do it.”
An assistant at “The Oprah Winfrey Show” at the time of the school’s unveiling, producer and co-host of “Nightline on Fusion” Kimberly Brooks was so struck by OWLAG that she penned a stunning letter to Winfrey asking to attend the school’s grand opening. The trip would change Brooks’ life forever, and she would form fast and life-long friendships with many of the OWLAG girls.
A decade later, Brooks caught up with five of these young women as they graduated from college and embarked on new opportunities in their communities. In the astonishing and emotional “O Girls,” OWLAG graduates Bongeka, Thando, Charmain, Debra, and Mpumi speak with Brooks about their life-altering experience at OWLAG, what’s next for them and survivor’s guilt. Recently, I sat down with Kimberly Brooks to discuss that infamous letter that would change her life, bonding with the “O Girls” and what she’s learned from Winfrey, the woman the O Girls refer to as, Mom O.
Aramide Tinubu: Hi Kimberly, how are you?
Kimberly Brooks: I’m good, how are you? How’s it going?
AT: I’m fantastic, thanks! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with Shadow and Act about your fantastic documentary, “O Girls.”
KB: Oh, of course, thank you for taking the time.
AT: Wonderful. I found it so beautiful that this journey started with a letter that you wrote to Oprah Winfrey a decade ago. Did you ever think that the letter would lead you to where you are now as a producer and connecting with these young women?
KB: I knew I was going to be somewhere, but I definitely didn’t imagine in a million years that this would be the trajectory. I think even sitting right here talking to you; I’m still wrapping my mind around it because it’s just been so incredible how the dots have connected. I wrote that letter really feeling like I was going to get to go to South Africa. There was something inside telling me that I was going to be in Africa. Still, when Oprah said, “yes” and then keeping these bonds with the girls and everything that has happened after, it feels amazing to me how it all happened.
AT: What inspired you to commemorate the ten year anniversary of the girls starting their journey at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls (OWLAG) through many of them finishing college and entering the real world?
KB: I actually didn’t have the idea in mind at all to do this documentary. What happened is one of the girls that I am really close with, who is not in the documentary, unfortunately; she came to visit me in Miami. While she was here on her spring break in 2015, I took her to work with me because she wanted to see where I work and what I do. I introduced her to my boss, and I told him that I knew her from my work at the Academy and that she had become like my little sister. He was really taken by the story and thought it was amazing. After she left, he suggested the idea of doing a special to see where some of the other girls had ended up after they graduated from OWLAG. It just so happened that the girls who had come to the States were getting ready to graduate college. The timing was just perfect.
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