Media mogul Oprah Winfrey pledged $1 million Thursday to N Street Village, a social-services agency in Northwest Washington that has served thousands of homeless women over four decades.
“The thing that excites me the most about N Street,” Winfrey told a crowd gathered at a fundraising luncheon at the Ritz-Carlton, “is that you are an intention-based organization. You don’t just help, heal and get women to recover, but your intention is literally to transform lives.”
In a 20-minute speech, Winfrey, who wore a gray and black dress and had her hair in a ponytail, talked about the power of transcendence.
She praised N Street for helping women to “transcend, to step out of the history, to step out of the shame, out of the confusion and the chaos and the drugs and the sense of unworthiness and to reclaim themselves as rightful people in the world.”
Winfrey had received a standing ovation as she stepped onto the stage in the ballroom where N Street celebrated its 10th Annual Empowerment Luncheon. The event shines a light on vulnerable women in the District who grapple with poverty, homelessness, drug addiction and health crises.
N Street has been recognized nationally as a model for success at ending women’s homelessness. Programs focus on compassion, personal responsibility and empowerment.
The shelter has long attracted star advocates. In March, actor Richard Gere visited N Street, and Broadway star Jennifer Holliday performed at an evening fundraiser.
N Street was founded in the winter of 1975, providing cots and hot meals to women in danger, Executive Director Schroeder Stribling said. “At the heart of our mission is dignity and self-worth. We greet each woman with respect that we ourselves would want in our hour of need. Every single day, at least one new woman comes to our door. Our task is to meet her where she is. . . . With a twist of fate, she could be me, or you, or your sister, or your daughter, or your close friend. We are all the women at the front door.”
N Street Village is one of the District’s largest providers of services to homeless women. Some of those who arrive there have been abused. Others suffer from mental illness or have lost their jobs.
Lolita Mitchell, a resident of N Street Village and a featured speaker at the luncheon, said that before N Street, she had spent 25 years smoking crack.
“I came up to N Street. They were open arms to me. I used to cry all the time. Now I can say I’m stronger. I’m not afraid anymore. I turned my life around.”
She pointed Winfrey out in the crowd.
“Miss Oprah, you have inspired me,” Mitchell said. “I went to Chicago once and turned on the TV. I came back to Washington, and I told everyone in the ’hood, ‘There’s a lady called Oprah. Watch her.’ ”
A former resident, Lynda Rush, introduced Winfrey. Rush, who said she arrived at N Street after she was arrested in 2010 for attempting to get an undercover police officer to buy drugs for her, said she could now tell her story without shame. She explained that when she was in the midst of her addiction, she dreamed of writing a letter to Winfrey and asking for her help to get better.
“I never wrote the letter,” Rush said, “but I’m here now.”
Winfrey told the crowd that she had an epiphany while listening to the women speak.
“ ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ was number one for 27 years. Now I know why. Lolita was going around telling everyone, ‘Watch Oprah,’ ” she said to laughter.
Then Oprah dived into a mesmerizing lesson on transcendence, transformation and service. She also referenced the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“What I know for sure is what Dr. King said. He said not everybody can be famous.” She paused. “He wasn’t around for the selfie.”
“He said not everyone can be famous, but everyone can be great because greatness is determined by service.”
Winfrey lauded N Street again for its service.
“For everyone in this room, every life you touch is your legacy. I thank you, N Street, for seeing, hearing and knowing that every life matters. . . . I’m pledging today $1 million.”