On Oprah, charity and saving our troubled neighborhoods

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It’s touching that Oprah feels sad and devastated about what happened — the abuse and rape — at the Leadership Academy for Girls School she founded at Henley-on-Kilp, South Africa.

When she heard the news a dorm mom sexually assaulted students, Oprah says spent a “half-hour going around my house crying.” It must be how the Pope feels about all those pedophile priests.

Nobody would say that what happened is Oprah’s fault. She invested loads of good will and $40 million into a school she hopes will help disadvantaged South African girls reach achieve their greatest dreams. That’s admirable. Besides, $40 million isn’t chump change — even for a billionaire.

But what bugs me a bit about Oprah’s good intentions is that she picked South Africa as the place to help disadvantaged girls.

Shouldn’t charity begin at home? Or better yet, in Chicago?

Don’t neighborhoods like Roseland and Englewood and K-town — even the Near West Side close to Harpo Studios — have plenty of disadvantaged girls who could use a place like Oprah’s leadership academy.

And the young ladies who live in Chicago public housing — or those displaced when Stateway Gardens came down — what about them? Shouldn’t American’s stars — the rich and powerful people such as Oprah, Sidney Poitier, Spike Lee, Chris Tucker, Tina Turner and Mary J. Blige who backed the South African school — be concerned enough about the people suffering in Chicago’s hoods to make a real effort to help people here.

Maybe that’s the risk of being a filthy rich superstar — you really start to believe that you’re a resident of the world and your global vision, ccidentally of course, blinds you to the trouble lingering in your own front yard. Or maybe I just get tired of reading about celebrities focusing so much of their charity — and adoption — efforts in other parts of the world when neighborhoods here could use the help.

What some of our communities need is a big shot like Oprah or Michael Jordan or Gigi Pritzker or anybody else with the lots of cash and influence to adopt an entire community and help make it a better place.

We need them to get behind a podium next to Mayor Daley and announce that they’re going to invest their money and reputations — not in some faraway land or monument to themselves or over priced kiddie museum — right here in a part of Chicago where people are suffering from the influence of gangs, guns, drugs and poverty.

I know that has nothing to do with the horrible things that happened at the school for the disadvantaged girls of Henley-on-Kilp.

But it’s something I think about from time to time, mostly on nights when the not-so-distant sound of gunfire out my window demands my attention.

What do you think?

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You're dead-on, Konks. I know Oprah's intentions are good, but how about taking a look at things in your own backyard? Chicago has many 'hoods that need help like that. Heck, some of these 'hoods seem to be the worst in the nation, and Oprah can't do something for Chicago? Even if not in a Chicago neighborhood, why not some other inner city?

Oprah does everything she does for the publicity. Just look at the way she reacted when her stupid dog was sick a couple months ago. She acted like the world was coming to an end. She's as fake as the Tooth Fairy, but housemoms and yentas eat up everything she puts out there. I mean, how vain are you to publish a magazine of yourself with your picture on the cover every month? Come on, people!

Oprah's fame has blinded her to what's really going on. Picking South Africa was a great PR move because of its history of apartheid, but discrimination and poverty still prevail in some of Chicago's inner city 'hoods, and other American cities, for that matter. But setting up a school here wouldn't be as glamorous nor get as much publicity.

If Oprah were to lavish her gifts on Chicago's undeserving poor every dime of that money would end up in the hands of some rich Chicago developer. Her contributions would be jokingly referred to in powerful political circles as "the other TIFs".

Chicago has the second highest number of millionaires in the country. If we really wanted to do something we wouldn't need any of Oprah's money.

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on November 5, 2007 1:10 PM.

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