Oprah Surprises Dedicated New Jersey High School Principal With $500,000 Grant

Oprah surprised each students at the New Jersey school with a $50 gift card as well.

Photo Credit: Facebook

| May 20 2019,

6:39 pm

Oprah decided to share a bit of her wealth on Friday when she donated $500,000 to an innovative after-school program run by a humble New Jersey principal.

West Side High School Principal Akbar Cook and the students who participate in his Lights On program were surprised when the media mogul stopped by the school with pizza, $50 gift cards for each student and a $500,000 grant to keep the program going. 


West Side High School stays open on Fridays from 6 p.m. to midnight, giving students a safe place to hang out, study, play games, and practice sports. Cook was frank about the program's focus when it was first covered by NJ.com, saying he just wanted to keep his kids alive. “I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year,” he told NJ.com at the time.

He hasn't let the program's success stop him from exploring more ways to help students. Last year, he bought washing machines and dryers for the school so kids could wash their clothes. He found that kids were being bullied for having dirty clothes and would skip school to avoid the harassment.  

Since then, he has been featured on Ellen twice and CBS News, where Oprah first caught wind of his work. 

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

“I saw what your great principal is doing, I saw the washing machines. 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 told the students.

“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."