THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE IS MEANT FOR EVERYONE WHO CARES ABOUT THE STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESSES AND WANTS TO HELP ELMINATE IT. WHILE IT IS ADDRESSED TO OPRAH WINFREY, IT GOES OUT TO ANYONE WHO CAN HELP MAKE A DIFFERENCE AND HAS A PLATFORM THAT CAN BE INFLUENTIAL AND CHOOSES TO USE IT FOR IMPORTANT CAUSES.
PLEASE KNOW HOW GRATEFUL I WILL BE TO WHOMEVER CAN HELP MAKE THIS DREAM COME TRUE FOR ALL OF US.
Dear Ms. Winfrey & Executives at OWN,
I know you’re not one who would even think of soliciting a compliment. You don’t have to — compliments for what you do, how you look, what you mean to the world — should be pouring in all the time. If they’re not, let me assure you that everyone I know thinks you’re the finest human we have on our planet.
I’m responding to your great idea, your new “game” being promoted on OWN’s website.
So here’s my answer to your first question (who do you want to say “Thank You” to):
YOU! You are the person I want to say a very big “Thank YOU” to and to share with you my deep gratitude for you simply being YOU!
In all honesty, as one who is taking part in your “game,” the first person that came to my mind instantly was you, and for many reasons. My message to you is very simple and I say it with a lot of love: Thank you, Oprah, for everything you’ve done and are doing now. You’ve made an incredible difference to people all around the world, including and especially to me.
I have an immeasurable amount of gratitude for having you as a role model and for being my inspiration. You have been since we first met in 1986. You had no way of knowing this until now, but you are one of the major reasons I decided to pursue a career in broadcasting. After reading an unauthorized biography about you that was published very early in your career, it helped me grasp the importance of having a vision for my life and of pursuing it with blinders on. From that point forward, every important and even the not-so-important decisions I made came down to whether it would help me achieve my great big career goal of becoming a TV News Anchor & Reporter at a major station and, perhaps, at a network someday.
When you spoke at Oak Park-River Forest High School on the first Federal Holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior’s birthday, I was the very lucky student journalist who was given the purple plum assignment of interviewing Oprah Winfrey. Purple as in The Color Purple, of course, since we met on the day after you were nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for The Color Purple. I remember when you stepped out of a purple limousine, which seemed a little surreal even then — Oprah Winfrey is getting out of a purple limo and walking up to the entrance of my high school and I’m the one who gets to talk with her!
I had done a lot of preparation for that interview, trying hard to think up questions that would make you pause for a second or maybe even two to come up with an intelligent answer. But try as I did, you didn’t blink or bat an eye. Not even once. You were smoother than silk, never missing a beat. My tough questions were like softballs to you. Bam! One flew out of the park. Bam! There she hits another one. I was thinking: “How in the world do you do that?”
Your spark and remarkable presence blew me away then and still does when I watch those clips now. It’s all there 25 years ago, all of the reasons you became so famous and the most influential and entertaining personality in broadcasting.
I believe you either have “it” or you don’t. If you don’t have it, all the trying in the world isn’t going to bring it to you magically somehow.
But if you’ve got it, and obviously you have it in spades, then by practicing and speaking on live TV or radio, such experience helps to make your “it” factor shine through brilliantly, as you demonstrated even then. You weren’t the perfectly polished Oprah we are used to seeing today — a model of poise, presence and grace that we should all strive to achieve — ou were just a tiny bit raw in 1986. But the differences are minute, if that.
You were eloquent, humorous with excellent off-the-cuff one liners. How I loved hearing about your “bouncin’ and behavin’ hair!” Yet you were also filled with real substance and a very important message that only you could deliver because of the life you had lived up to that point. Having a much better appreciation today for what it takes to come across so naturally and to be quoting great authors and poets at the drop of a hat like it’s nothing, it says to me that you did your homework and were very prepared for that speech because you wanted to make the most of that moment and make the auditorium of 2500 students really listen, think, and walk away with a better understanding of who Dr. King was and why it should matter to them.
You did this so well and authentically, never appearing like you were trying to be something or someone you’re not. I’m reminded of how you have admitted to doing exactly that early on in your career when you might try to emulate the speaking pattern of one of your favorite role models, Barbara Walters. I was guilty of it, too. I remember my first radio gig at the National Public Radio station at The University Of Missouri. I spoke with such a slow, measured and deep voice as I was fantasizing that I was becoming the next Tom Brokaw and someone was going to hear me on that station and make me a star because of THAT VOICE!
I have to laugh when I hear my voice in our interview. All I hear now is that nasally Chicago accent, which makes me cringe, and I see a young man who is really working hard at trying to leave you with a good impression, in the hopes that maybe one day I might work with you or at least near you. You were so kind, playing along with each of my earnest questions. You even complimented me, saying I had asked you “a very good question.”
When I bombarded you with about four questions all at once and never giving you a chance to chime in, you threw up your hands and looked around the room as if you were thinking: “Can you believe this guy? Is he ever going to shut up long enough so I can answer just one of his questions?”
I was a little over the top, but for good reason. Oprah Winfrey was my subject!
Afterwards, I was so thrilled and exhilarated. I remember feeling like your approval and compliments were a really good sign of things to come. To me, it was confirmation that I was heading in the right direction by going into broadcasting. I doubt you meant all of that at the time, but I suspect you don’t hear it enough. Your words are often even more influential, and especially to young people, than you might appreciate or realize.
You had and continue to have such a major influence on my life and my path for the future. I can’t thank you enough for the things you said to me that may have seemed insignificant at the time, but they were genuine and to me, your words had a lasting impact.
Many people, including members of my family, would ask me why I would want to pursue such a highly competitive field like broadcasting and some would even suggest that perhaps I should at least look into other career options. That kind of negativity and doubt in my abilities or chances for success might have easily been enough to derail others and I’m sure that happens far too often. But I had a sort of tunnel vision which I think, in large part, formed after hearing you describe your vision for yourself. I already had a strong belief in my abilities. Your comments helped fuel the fire inside me and they came at an important decision making time in my life as I would soon decide where to go to college.
In case you haven’t seen my interview with you from 1986, I’ve included the clips here for you and hopefully everyone at OWN to enjoy. I remain fascinated today by your remarkable vision for what you wanted and could even see as your future. You absolutely knew without even the shred of a doubt that you would become a very wealthy media tycoon. And this was before “The Oprah Winfrey Show” made its national debut, syndicated by King-World Productions.
Enjoy (and try not to laugh so loud that I can hear you in Palm Springs when I badger you with all those lofty questions, ok?)…
OK, now wipe those tears off your face (after laughing at me, and yes, I could hear you back here in The Coachella Valley! I’ve laughed so much at that, I’m assuming you would, too.)
Anyway, as you talked about Dr. King’s great dream and your own dream for your life’s work, I, too have a dream and I believe it is one that is best suited for OWN. I don’t want to give away my entire vision here and now because the first rule is not to burden or bore you with too much detail. And more importantly, I want to explain this to you in person because this is so important that I can’t begin to do it justice in written form.
I need to be able to look into your eyes and really share what’s in my heart with you personally. A phone call won’t be good enough either, not that I’m able to dictate to Oprah Winfrey how she must communicate with Kevin Roy. But I long for a meeting so I can be face-to-face with you and your inner circle and so that all of you can see with your own eyes just how much this issue matters to me on a very personal level and how I will give everything of myself to you and OWN, and I mean EVERYTHING I’VE GOT, WHICH IS A LOT, to helping OWN, working to make it OUTSTANDING, and making sure we’re leading the way when it comes to changing people’s attitudes about mental illnesses, the discrimination far too many people with such brain disorders still experience even today, and doing all we can to be leading the nation and eventually the world on wiping out the stigma associated with mental illness. I want you to get a sense of what’s in my heart, and how I would never let you or anyone down on an issue that is so near and dear to my heart after losing my mother to suicide, because ultimately, I know it was the stigma that killed her. If only we had been making progress like all the good people with the Lance Armstrong Foundation and the wonderful things they have done to benefit cancer and to shed light on the issue, how it’s possible not only to live and survive testicular cancer, and other kinds of cancer. But that when caught early and treated right, it’s even possible to race in the Tour de France again and WIN IT AGAIN! The same can be said for all of the wonderful, inspirational women who wear pink ribbons and walk or run in the Y-Me Breast Cancer Events. They’ve raised a ton of money for research, and such events do so much for cancer survivors in terms of helping them feel like they are not alone and are in very good company with people who really care.
It’s not the same for mental illness and the stigma that keeps far too many people stuck in their ways. Too judgmental, too afraid to take action, too many people are still dying, committing suicide, because we haven’t done nearly enough work on the darn stigma that is stubborn and awful, no doubt. But I know without a doubt that with Oprah Winfrey and the wonderful people at OWN taking on this issue and realizing it’s like our own mission to the moon, a feat so many people wouldn’t dare to touch but one that we not only will attempt to tackle, but we will do so in such a way that everyone will be watching, the whole world will be watching, to borrow a metaphor. And that wall, or that stigma, will come falling down like that wall came crashing down much to everyone’s surprise in Berlin when no one thought that would ever happen in our lifetime.
It’s up to us to make this happen. We can. We will. Please give me that chance. Our society is depending on it. I don’t think our future is very bright, to be honest, if we continue on with the mean spirited, harsh manner of how many of us are treating one another these days.
We need to make a fundamental shift or we will see another Great Depression, and not only in terms of our economy. The malaise that has settled in for the last several years will become a thick morass of broken hearts and dreams and that will be harder than The Berlin Wall to overcome. We must act right now and do it in a big way or we’re in serious trouble. If anyone has the power and influence to see to it that we don’t sink into a downward spiral that will take far too many good people with it, it is you, Oprah Winfrey. I am not trying to burden you with guilt, but rather present to you a great opportunity. I’m sure it’s one you’ve already been considering. The difficult question is how do we make that shift.
There’s no one talking about this issue repeatedly, over and over again, on a daily, nightly, and overnight basis, as there has been for cancer or heart disease. Everywhere you turn, there’s a celebrity making an appearance for a cancer cause, or writing a book about how they’ve triumphed over cancer or any other major ailment of the body.
But very rarely do we hear about the most important organ in our entire body and how someone conquered the demons or mental illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder that almost killed them. It’s not acceptable. It’s frowned upon, even, as I know from experience in pitching such stories in the past and having to fight tooth and nail for them. To try to enlighten people, educate them about a very real and scary epidemic is something that should be encouraged and welcomed.
Something tells me that’s exactly how you will approach this. I know you will, without a doubt. We need you. And you need this cause, too, because once people start to hear about how OWN is covering mental health issues, suicide, the stigma and all that is related to it, they will tune in and your ratings will rise to new levels. I can say this because of the overwhelming response to “A Son of Suicide” after the series aired on your favorite TV station (and mine), WLS-TV, abc7Chicago. To quote former General Manager Emily Barr, who answered the thousands of email messages we received: “We’ve never had this kind of response to anything this station has done in the past.” It was phenomenal — all the handwritten cards, letters, phone calls — and all of them were extremely positive and filled with appreciation, thanking the station for having the courage to present such high quality and well produced pieces on a topic that gets so little attention in the mainstream media. Most of the comments came from survivors of suicide who said they finally felt as if their story had been told and that meant the world to them because they were hopeful that it might help change attitudes and, well, you know where I’m going with the rest of this — it all leads to the stigma. We must kill it.
1) LIVE News, and not the “if it bleeds it leads style.” To be brief, it would be news produced with YOUR audience in mind and involved in how we select the stories and in what direction we go with our news product. We’ll engage the audience through the use of social media and other innovative ways of helping them really feel connected.
2) Mental Health Coverage — A Show about reducing the stigma of mental illnesses. Who could be more influential on that topic than you, Oprah Winfrey? I can’t think of anyone or a better place for an innovative program to be featured. The brain, it is said, is the last great frontier known to science and mankind. OWN should be leading the way with coverage the educates, illuminates and gets the vast public to change its attitude and help eliminate the stigma once and for all. The stigma is what killed my beautiful mother, Diane Marcus Roy, who died by suicide 17 years ago. She feared being judged or called crazy. Sadly, as many people if not more today are held back and killed by this thing called the stigma. We can and must do something about it. You are my inspiration and the most influential person I can think of who could have a significant impact on the stigma, and one day, hopefully in the not-so-distant future, we’ll look back together and say we did it! http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL436B1CFC30C9A2AB
Thank you for all you have done to improve this planet and its inhabitants.
Thank you for being my favorite personal hero — of all time. You top my short list, easily!
Working for you, in close proximity to you, and with your great staff at OWN would be my greatest dream come true at this point in my life. I am dedicating the rest of my career to working on issues that change the world for the better, and specifically on erasing the stigma of mental illnesses. Nothing could be more important to me, for reasons I know I don’t have to explain to you.
In return, I will bring all of my valuable experiences and knowledge on mental health reporting and the kind of coverage that will make OWN an innovator in another exceptional way. No one else is focusing on reporting about the stigma and what’s being done and what more can and should be done to destroy it in our lifetime. If and when we produce those shows and newscasts for OWN, I am certain based on the tremendous response from viewers that I’ve experienced time and time again that our special mission will help elevate OWN, your already great network, to an even higher level. From the way you’ve described what your vision is for a completely realized network in your name, I am confident these additions will bring OWN that much closer to what you really want in your heart for it to be.
Give me a chance and I promise you, it will happen, we will succeed. It’s something I know for SURE because I will work my ass off for you!
I also know for sure that you will keep up the great work at OWN and never give in. As one of my favorite broadcast journalists put it when she signed her book, And So It Goes by Linda Ellerbee:
“Kevin — Do It. Laugh A Lot. And Never Give In!”
I can honestly tell you I have never given in. I guess that explains in large part why I’m trying so hard to get back to doing what I do best and love doing most — producing and telling important stories that truly make a difference and can even save lives. There’s less room these days for journalists who don’t sell out. But I know there is definitely room for more of that kind of life-changing programming in your heart and it’s shared by the many people who really care and get it at OWN. Your vision is the right one. Time will prove how right you are. And your legacy will be creating programming that reflects your inner beauty and has inspired countless people globally to try a little harder and be better in one way or many ways. Let’s take down the stigma and make that the most important part of that legacy of yours…ours.
With much love, gratitude and admiration for you and everyone at OWN,