At the start of the year, Marianne traveled to South Africa to celebrate the grand opening of The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Marianne talks to Oprah about what South Africa and the school mean to her. Plus, Sandra Pinckney, host of the Food Network's Food Finds and a close friend of Oprah's, shares her reflections.
Marianne, who says she was so profoundly moved by the sights and sounds of Africa, says the trip was like a "new birth" for all of Oprah's guests. "Life was just lifted to a more meaningful level—everything about what you were doing and where you were going," she says. "There would be an African dancer, there would be an animal, there would be some aspect of African magnificence and splendor."
Oprah tells Marianne that she feels a deep spiritual connection with the continent of Africa not only because she is an African-American, but because the land is the cradle of civilization. "I feel that the essence of who I am came from this place," she says. "There's something wonderful about this continent—it opens you up."
Another force that draws Oprah to South Africa is a sense of hopefulness that she has not witnessed any place else. "In spite of the loss, the grief, the suffering, that there still is the life, there is the light—literally the light of Africa that you carry with you…and you can feel it," she says.
Oprah says the school is not just a fulfillment of her career, but of her life. She says she feels like a mother to the 152 young girls she personally helped select for enrollment. "Your responsibility is to somebody other than yourself and you feel that in a really deep, unexplainable and committed way," she says. "And I feel that way about every one of those girls."
Marianne says she befriended Sandra Pinckney, host of the Food Network's Food Finds, during the New Year's Eve party Oprah hosted for guests of the trip. Sandra, a longtime friend of Oprah's whom she met while working in Baltimore, says the trip was "life changing." "There was something very restorative about it, there was something very spiritual about being there with [Oprah], that she would share this moment of supreme destiny with us," she says.