Students at a high school in Newark, New Jersey, received quite the surprise Friday when Oprah Winfrey stopped by to announce she was donating a cool $500,000 to their school.
Oprah received word of a program at Wide Side High School in Newark called “Lights On,” which was created by the school’s principal, and varsity basketball coach, Akbar Cook.
It was created to keep students off the street by giving them a safe place to hang out on Friday nights. From 6:00 p.m. to midnight, classmates can play basketball, video games, board games, shoot pool, practice cheering or record music in a safe environment, according to WPVI.
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.
“I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year,” Principal Akbar Cook told WPVI.
Cook posted on social media of the two together holding hands.
“Everybody always talks about the grades. You can’t start to talk about the grades unless they feel safe, unless they feel seen, unless they feel respected, unless they feel valued,” said Winfrey at the event.
Cook mentioned it would be the first of many photos, declaring himself blessed in one photo and declaring Oprah “family” in another.
“That’s a half a million dollars to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing, because what you’re doing is moving in the right direction,” Winfrey said in a video she posted on her Facebook Page, while surrounded by screaming students. “I saw what your great principal was doing, and I thought, what can I do?”
“My kids feel like they don’t have anyone,” Cook told NJ.com. “And you just took time out of your busy schedule to show me and my babies love. I’m floored. I’m truly humbled.”
This is the second major celebrity to donate money to Cook’s cause. Ellen DeGeneres had him on her talk show twice, giving him $50,000 on both occasions to support his “Lights On” program.