BLACK VOICES

N.J. Principal 'Floored' After Oprah Winfrey Surprises School With $500,000 Gift

"My kids feel like they don’t have anyone," West Side High School Principal Akbar Cook said. "I’m truly humbled.”

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.

The media mogul and billionaire philanthropist said she was inspired to donate after watching a CBS News report about West Side High School Principal Akbar Cook and initiatives he started to curb bullying and keep students off the streets at night.

“I saw what your great principal is doing,” Winfrey told students and staff packed into the school’s gymnasium. “And I thought, what can I do?”

“So I’m going to leave here tonight and leave you with a half a million dollars,” she continued, prompting the crowd to erupt in applause.

CBS News’ Jeff Glor reported last month on Cook’s “Lights On” program, which keeps the school open from 6 p.m. through at least 11 p.m. on Fridays during the school year and three nights a week during the summer.

Instead of spending time on the streets during those nights, students are able to use the gym, dance, play board games and more. They are also provided with free meals donated by local charities.

Cook also installed washing machines in the school for student use after hearing about some being bullied for wearing dirty clothes. 

“This is selfless work that we do,” Cook told CBS. “No one goes into education thinking they are going to get rich. ... I have a gold medal around my heart from the love that the kids give back to me.”

Winfrey praised Cook’s dedication to his community and West Side students for “moving in the right direction.”

The Lights On program shows “other people how to do it right by providing an opportunity and a place for you to be,” she said. “I want this program to continue.”

She said her $500,000 gift aimed “to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.”

Winfrey also gave each student a $50 gift card for the grocery store chain ShopRite, reported CBS New York.

“This is big,” Inaisha Baker, a 17-year-old West Side student told The Star-Ledger. “I was shocked.”

Cook echoed Baker’s gratitude.

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

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