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November 20th, 2009
04:38 PM ET

I remember Oprah

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Lisa Respers France
CNN

It seems ironic to me that it was this time of the year more than 30 years ago that I had my first “encounter” with Oprah Winfrey.

I was a little girl whose legs dangled off the pew when Winfrey appeared as a featured speaker on Sunday at my grandmother’s church in West Baltimore, Maryland. I immediately recognized her as an anchor on the local news station, WJZ, and I couldn’t believe that such a star would be standing in the pulpit of Whitestone Baptist Church.

Ordinarily church meant suffering through a sermon I didn’t understand and staring in awe at the women who – in their exuberance at being in the presence of the Holy Spirit – seemed to shout, sweat and dance the walls down.

But this Sunday I was mesmerized by Oprah.

Like any good storyteller, she started out slow, sharing tales of growing up first in Mississippi, then in Milwaukee and Tennessee. Like me, she loved to read and I felt like she was walking up and down my street when she recounted the many church plays and programs in which she had been called to perform.

I literally slid to the edge of the pew as Oprah told the tragic story of a slave woman who upon being revived from a vicious beating from her master thought she was seeing stars, only to realize it was salt on the ground which had been thrown on her lacerated back. The congregation moaned their pain and understanding of the hardships of life.

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