Oprah surprises N.J. school with $500,000 gift

The Newark school's principal, Akbar Cook, started the Lights On program to give students somewhere safe to hang out after school.
Oprah Winfrey attends the European Premiere of 'A Wrinkle In Time' in London on March 13, 2018.
Oprah Winfrey attends the European Premiere of 'A Wrinkle In Time' in London on March 13, 2018.John Phillips / Getty Images file

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By Janelle Griffith

The future of one program at a New Jersey high school got a little brighter over the weekend after Oprah Winfrey paid a surprise visit to announce she would donate $500,000 to help keep kids off the street.

The media mogul made the announcement to a packed gymnasium of screaming students at West Side High School in Newark, where principal Akbar Cook started the Lights On program to give students somewhere safe to hang out after school. The program also provides a space for students to enjoy a meal or do their laundry.

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Lights On runs from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. and has existed for years, but gained national attention last year when Cook installed washing machines and dryers at the school for students who told him they were being bullied because they could not afford to wash their school uniforms. In some cases, students reported skipping school to avoid being taunted.

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Cook appeared twice on Ellen DeGeneres' talk show, where he was gifted $50,000 each time toward his efforts.

On Friday, Winfrey said she was moved by his story and wanted to help further his initiative.

Cook had an emotional exchange with the media mogul in the parking lot afterward where the two held hands and expressed mutual admiration, NJ.com reported.

“My kids feel like they don’t have anyone," Cook said, according to the outlet. “And you just took time out of your busy schedule to show me and my babies love. I’m floored. I’m truly humbled."

Winfrey interrupted him and said: “We are humbled by you."

Winfrey praised Cook for his efforts to secure his students' success.