Last Friday, Oprah Winfrey paid a visit to West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey to not only surprise the students and staff with a pizza party, but to also give a $500,000 donation for its after school program called “Lights On.”
The program, which was started by the school’s principal Akbar Cook, provides students with a safe place to gather on Friday nights where they can play basketball, video games, shoot pool or practice cheers until 11 p.m. throughout the school year, CNN reports. Over the summer, the program runs three times a week.
In addition to implementing the “Lights On” on program, Principal Cook also installed a laundry room in the school after finding out that students with dirty clothes were being bullied by their peers and, in turn, missing class.
Winfrey posted a video about her visit on Facebook, saying, “When I saw what Principal Akbar Cook was doing for his students at West Side High School in Newark, NJ, I had to come see what it was all about and share some delicious O, That’s Good pizza.”
In a video posted by Cook, Winfrey announced her half a million dollar donation to the school, and added that she wants to encourage the community to “keep doing what you’re doing because what you’re doing is moving in the right direction.”
Cook’s work and influence at his school was first shared on a national platform when he appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres show last September. He tells NJ.com that since his appearance, his school has received gifts of detergent, clothing and toiletries from all over the world.
“It’s crazy man,” said Cook, who also serves as the school’s varsity basketball coach. “I never thought anything like this would happen.”
In March, DeGeneres invited the principal back on her show to further praise the work he’s doing and to give him a $50,000 check for his school.
This past February, after sending Cook a personal letter, Newark’s former mayor and current presidential candidate Sen. Cory Book praised the principal on Twitter, saying, “His tireless work is an inspiration to us all.”
Principal Cook, thank you for making a difference!