Why Oprah Gave These 9 Women Standing O-Vations

Kimberly Bryant wasn’t unaccustomed to being the only woman of color in the room—whether it was in college science classes or working as an electrical engineer. When she enrolled her videogame-obsessed daughter in a coding summer camp at Stanford University, she was discouraged to find things hadn’t changed. Her daughter was one of just three girls and the only non-Caucasian.
 
But Bryant didn’t want her daughter—or anyone else—to experience the same heartaches and challenges she did, so in 2011 she created Black Girls Code to introduce girls in underrepresented communities to computer science and technology. The organization has seven chapters in the U.S. and one in Johannesburg, South Africa. Bryant’s goal is to train 1 million students by 2040. Today, more than 3,000 girls have gone through the program in chapters in the United States and South Africa.
 
For her work, Bryant recently received a $25,000 Toyota Standing O-Vation Award presented by Oprah Winfrey during the San Jose, Calif., stop of Oprah’s The Life You Want Weekend Tour. Winfrey and Paralympic bronze medalist Amy Purdy shared the stage to honor women in other cities on the tour with similar awards.
 
And these women’s pioneering visions are why Toyota and Oprah stood up:
 
• Black Girls RUN! founders Ashley Hicks and Toni Carey, who launched the Atlanta organization in 2009 to combat obesity and to dispel the myth that African-American women don’t like to run. The organization has grown to include more than 70 running groups across the country and hundreds of thousands of members. The groups include beginners and experienced runners, and provide support systems to help members reach their fitness goals.
 
• Detroit Kitchen Connect founder Devita Davison, who created the nonprofit to help home cooks start and build food businesses. The group helps negotiate affordable kitchen rentals in local churches, giving these budding entrepreneurs access to licensed facilities and commercial equipment, and ultimately enabling them to contribute to the Detroit economy.
 
• Final Salute founder Jaspen “Jas” Boothe, who started her organization to help homeless female military veterans. Boothe lost her home and belongings during Hurricane Katrina while she was training as a platoon leader in the Army Reserve. At the same time, she was diagnosed with aggressive head, neck and throat cancer. After two surgeries and radiation treatment, Boothe’s cancer was in remission, but her job was downsized and she had nowhere to go. She sought help from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which had virtually no programs to help women. Boothe remained homeless for six months, sometimes staying with a relative, eventually getting a job with the Army National Guard in Washington, D.C.
 
In 2010, Boothe saw a report on homeless female veterans on the Oprah Winfrey Show and realized the magnitude of the problem, prompting her to found Final Salute. The organization now has three homes in West Virginia, Virginia and Ohio to help homeless female veterans and their children while the women find full-time work. The group has helped almost 300 women and children from 15 states and territories.
 
• Camden [New Jersey] Sophisticated Sisters drill team and drumline founder Tawanda Jones, who started the program when she was 15 and a single mother to provide an activity and hope for her peers. Her bigger goal was to help break the cycle of teen pregnancies and gang violence in her neighborhood.
 
Twenty-nine years later, 4,000 children have participated in the program, which requires them to perform 200 hours of community service a year and maintain at least a C average in school. The group practices five days a week and is usually booked on Saturdays for parades and private events. Although Camden’s graduation rate is just 49 percent, all of the Sophisticated Sisters have finished high school.
 
• Nurtured by Design founder Yamile Jackson, Ph.D., who created the Zaky to simulate a parent’s touch with hospitalized babies. Jackson’s inspiration came from frustration over not being able to spend nighttime hours with her infant son, Zach, while he was in the neonatal intensive care unit after being born at 28 weeks. Jackson, whose doctorate is in ergonomics and human factors engineering, initially used garden gloves to create pillows, simulating the touch and scent of Jackson and her husband. Zachary’s response was noticeably positive. Since 2003, Nurtured by Design has manufactured about 50,000 Zakys, and has made donations to 300 hospitals in about 50 countries.
 
Estella’s Brilliant Bus founder Estella Pyfrom. The bus brings computers and a specialized learning program to children in underserved South Florida communities. Pyfrom, who had been a guidance counselor, realized many students were victims of a “digital divide” because they didn’t have access to computers or technology. So she took more than $1 million in savings to hire contractors and designers to create the bus with 17 computer stations. With the bus and a specialized program she developed to help children in various subjects, Pyfrom has reached more than 61,000 students. “It’s not just a bus—it’s a movement,” she says.
 
• NextStep Recycling founder Lorraine Kerwood McKenzie. The program provides refurbished computers to people who can’t afford them. After struggling in school her whole life, and ultimately finding out she had Asperger syndrome, Kerwood McKenzie discovered she had a talent for refurbishing old computers. Understanding how valuable a computer education could be for people with special education needs, she enlisted the help of other tech-savvy people and began providing refurbished computers to people who needed them. NextStep also trains people to work on computers, providing them with valuable skills. The organization now has 37 employees in two locations, as well as hundreds of volunteers.
 
Watch as Oprah narrates Kimberly Bryant’s story and recognizes her for her work.

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Lisa Ocker

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