West Side High School Principal Akbar Cook has gone viral for several initiatives he created to stop bullying and help protect students from gun violence in Newark, New Jersey. His efforts garnered the attention of media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who donated $500,000 to the school during a surprise visit on Friday.
Cellphone footage shared on Twitter captured Winfrey’s appearance in the school’s gymnasium. “I saw what your great principal is doing. And I thought, what can I do?” she said.
“So I’m going to leave here tonight and leave you with half a million dollars,” the OWN Network creator announced.
According to The Star-Ledger, Cook told Winfrey, “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.”
Last month, ABC 7 highlighted Cook’s Lights Out program, which decreased the number of student deaths to gun violence. Students are allowed to stay after school on Friday nights, where they can “shoot pool, play video games, hit the hard wood, practice cheers or even lay down tracks in a recording studio,” the television station reported.
Cook expressed how beneficial the program has been. “I haven’t lost any more kids to gun violence since the start of the school year,” he said.
Last summer, the principal installed a free laundry room inside the high school after “students were bullied because of dirty clothes, which resulted in chronic absenteeism.” According to Cook, there’s been a 10 percent increase in daily attendance since the laundry room has opened.