In light of Oprah's ABC primetime special, Building a Dream: Oprah Winfrey's Leadership Academy, which airs on February 26, 2007, Gayle invites Anna Deavere Smith to share her reflections on the school. The playwright, author and actress traveled to South Africa for the opening of the school at the start of 2007. Anna talks to Gayle about what the emotion-filled journey meant to her.
Building a Dream tells the story of the Leadership Academy from its beginning five years ago to its opening day. Witnessing the opening ceremony firsthand was an emotional experience for Anna. "What was so powerful to me and so historic and forward looking about what Oprah is doing is that those girls really felt like our children," she says.
Many of the students at the academy come from difficult pasts. Some have endured rape and abuse, others are AIDS orphans. Although Anna says she had great expectations even before meeting the girls, she says she was overwhelmed by their smiles, enthusiasm and character when she met them in person. "These girls are going to convert, I'm sure, the kinds of challenging histories that they've had into purposeful, mission-driven lives," Anna says.
Anna says one of the greatest things she took from the trip was the spirit of ubuntu, a traditional African concept that says, "I am because we are." For Anna, ubuntu means thinking globally and learning from other peoples and cultures—something which she says is critical in today's oftentimes polarized world. "If we don't understand that we can learn something about ourselves by looking elsewhere, then we'll never get to that spirit," she says.