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Oprah Winfrey at Essence Empowerment Experience

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This January makes ten years since the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy was founded just south of Johannesburg, South Africa. Named after the media mogul, the school was opened to give South African girls access to education and global opportunities to excel.

In celebration of the school and its students’ achievements, FUSION correspondent Kimberly Brooks documented the school through her one-hour O Girls film. In it she visits the current students, shows the progress of graduates and sits down with Oprah Winfrey herself to talk about the journey to educate young women.

“My work with these girls feels as natural to me as if they were my own children,” Winfrey told Brooks in an interview. “For me, this is what mothering was meant to be. 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.”

As noted in the press release: While access to education has enriched the lives of the young women who graduated from the Leadership Academy, the documentary also delves into the challenges that come along with such a life-altering opportunity. In an interview, Winfrey notes that on average many of the girls had experienced six major life traumas before even coming to the Academy – from violence and sexual abuse to dealing with the deaths of several family members.

Kimberly Brooks talks with OWLAG graduates Bongeka, Thando, Charmain, Debra and Mpumi about dealing with those traumas at a young age, as well as the personal pressure to succeed after life at the Academy and the challenge of balancing their lives in the U.S. with their South African roots.

Brooks, who’s a graduate of Columbia University and Northwestern University, felt like this film was a full-circle project. “For me, this is a living, breathing story,” she said. “This journey continues for all of us. As a woman of color, I am grateful for an opportunity to produce content about women of color accomplishing incredible things in this world.”

O Girls premieres Sunday, January 15 at 8pm on FUSION.

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