I don't know how many of you caught Oprah Winfrey's press conference yesterday. It came on just as we were about to go on the air, and I was riveted by every word. You remember we covered the allegations of abuse at the school last week, but the through-line was: we don't know much. We had on a reporter from The Sowetan and her overall message was how hard it had been to get information about what was going on at the school. At that time, Oprah had only issued a written statement but had not spoken publicly on the matter. Yesterday was the first time she spoke, and she explained her silence. She said she had been advised not to speak while the matter was investigated by authorities, and was doing so at the press conference because a woman had been charged, and other persons in positions of responsibility had been dealt with.
We were able to speak this morning with a reporter who attended the press conference in South Africa. We also spoke with one of those advising Winfrey on her response — Dr. Bruce Perry, a child psychologist out of Houston who works with victims of child abuse. He flew to South Africa with Oprah last week.
Why so much attention to this story?
Our feeling is that Oprah has intended this school to be a model for the country, the continent and even the world ... a model for girls' education. It seems that every need was addressed, every eventuality considered except, as Oprah herself acknowledged, the person in a position of trust inclined to abuse that trust. I feel I have to emphasize that in our system, people are innocent until proven guilty, and the accused in this case, a 27-year-old former dorm matron, said she isn't guilty of the charges. But still, young girls in a vulnerable position ... what can be done to protect them? What are the best practices that any school should follow?
I think Dr. Perry gave us some useful clues and I also appreciated the on-the-scene responses from Tebogo Monoma, a reporter at The Sowetan. I think it was very important to hear how members of the local community were reacting to the school before all this surfaced, as well as to hear how Winfrey is setting a standard for responding to crises like these.
Speaking of sensitive issues, I am not sure our conversation with the Mocha Moms conveyed just how sensitive the issue of skin color can be for parents, or how painful it is for parents of kids of color to hear from their kids that they don't like their skin color. I know for some of you, this is a completely strange conversation. You might be thinking, What? ... Kids say weird things all the time — like, you can't play with me because you don't have a Spiderman lunch box — but if you are a parent of color and you're trying to raise healthy kids, it can't help but pierce you like a knife. One of the moms said to me after the show, I don't think you can be black in this country and not be scarred by race in some way.
I hope that's not true. I hope that the Mocahs are helping all of us to find a way out of this mess. I thought Dr. Marguerite Wright had some great ideas.
I hope to hear from her again ... do you think we need to have another conversation on this topic?
Let me know...