After Oprah Winfrey saw the dedication a Newark, New Jersey, principal had to fostering students’ success outside of the classroom, the media mogul did something even the principal didn’t see coming.
She donated $500,000 to the high school.
Winfrey glimpsed a report focusing on West Side High School Principal Akbar Cook in March, which showed how he established the Lights On program so students would have a safe place to hang out on Friday nights. Every Friday from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., students can come to West Side High to use the school gym to dance, play games and are provided a warm meal. Plus, five commercial-grade washers and dryers were installed for students to have clean clothes and no longer face bullying for dirty outfits. During the summertime the program runs three nights each week, CBS News reported.
“I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year,” Cook said at the time.
The program is in its fourth year and relies on donations to keep it going.
However, when Winfrey showed up to the school Friday, May 17, she made it clear it won’t just be donations that support the program going forward. She stunned the principal after surprising students with a pizza party by announcing her donation.
“I saw what your great principal is doing, I saw the washing machines,” Winfrey told students and staff in the gym in a video posted to Cook’s Instagram page. “And I thought, ‘what can I do?’ So I’m going to leave here tonight and leave you with a half a million dollars.”
Those gathered around a casually-dressed Winfrey were stunned and applauded eagerly over the generous gift.
“This is big,” 17-year-old Inaisha Baker told NJ.com. “I was shocked.”
Winfrey noted the donation was meant “to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.”
In addition to providing hefty funds for the program to continue, Winfrey’s visit also included providing students with pizza from her O, That’s Good! line. She also provided each high schooler with a $50 gift card for local grocery store ShopRite, according to CBS New York.
“My kids feel like they don’t have anyone,” Cook told Winfrey as she exited into the parking lot, according to NJ.com. “And you just took time out of your busy schedule to show me and my babies love. I’m floored. I’m truly humbled.”
In response to Winfrey’s public gift, many have flooded Cook’s Instagram page with supportive remarks.
“Made me cry. So happy for all of you. Love stories like this. ❤️”
“I haven’t been to west side in years !! But I’m grateful for you @principal_akbar !!!”