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IDEA’s speaker series begins with John Quiñones

IDEA’s speaker series begins with John Quiñones

IDEA’s speaker series begins with John Quiñones
September 25
09:44 2022

John Quiñones, the seven-time Emmy award-winning reporter and host of “What Would You Do?” presented Thursday at the Lyceum as the inaugural speaker for the university’s Division of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access’ speaker series.

Students and staff packed the Lyceum as IDEA assistant vice president Teresa McKinney took the stage to introduce the speaker series. IDEA chose Quiñones in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month as he is a Mexican American from San Antonio, Texas.

“Last spring we had this amazing idea to develop a speaker series that would recognize and acknowledge the diverse groups of [university] faculty, staff, students, alumni, community members and celebrate their unique heritage,” McKinney said.

She said it took a long time for them to find the perfect speaker to begin the series. IDEA wanted someone who represented the goodness in humanity.

“Quiñones has literally become the face of doing the right thing for millions of fans,” McKinney said.

Before Quiñones took the stage, a brief preview of “What Would You Do?” played. As he walked up to the podium, the audience gave him a standing ovation. He said he was happy to be back in his home state of Texas. 

“I’m really impressed with UNT’s commitment to finding ways in which we can all contribute to social justice, to diversity, to equity and inclusion for all,” Quiñones said during his speech. “I can appreciate that and can connect to that better than anyone because I wouldn’t be here if it [were not] for people who fought for representation of Latino reporters on television.”

Quiñones helped create “What Would You Do?” because he wanted to put a mirror on American society and the darker side people would rather not hear about. The pandemic seemed to put everyone on their last nerve, he said.

“I’ve never seen this country as divided as today and I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement,” he said. “All you have to do is browse the internet, right? Or watch television and see those ugly videos that go viral, people arguing about, you know, Confederate symbols, arguing over Black Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter.”

Growing up, Quiñones said he spoke Spanish and knew his family was poor. His parents both worked low-paying jobs to support him and his two sisters. People assumed his parents had crossed the border despite seven generations of his family living in Texas.

“I didn’t cross the border — the border crossed me,” he said. 

He could afford to go to university because of the Upward Bound program, which helps low-income students receive an education. He worked three jobs — one as a delivery man for a pharmacy. He would practice reporting by recording himself in the pharmacy bathroom until he was discovered by an older coworker who got him in contact with a local radio station.

“No matter what you’re going into, get an internship there,” Quiñones said. “So you can get a taste of what it’s like.”

Quiñones got into Columbia University and fought to stay there by applying for loans and scholarships until he eventually got into a fellowship. He obtained a master’s degree that led to his first television job in Chicago. He told students how he covered illegal immigration by going undercover and helping seven workers get temporary visas.

“The journalist, he or she, is the person with a little candle or the little flashlight and they can shine it on the darkest corners of the room to illuminate injustice, to illuminate corruption, to illuminate human rights violations,” he said. 

The story won him his first Emmy award which he called the most special one. Before making “What Would You Do?” he covered stories for ABC all over Latin America. After a scenario from the show depicting racism was shown to the audience, he began to tell stories from behind the scenes. One story about a homeless woman on the show went viral and showed him that people were willing to help each other regardless of material reward.

“She did it because, as my dear mother Maria would say, her corazon, her heart, told her it was the right thing to do,” Quiñones said. 

The audience cheered before beginning to ask Quiñones questions. Professor of merchandising Marissa Zorola could not attend the event in person but her son, criminal justice freshman Gabriel Sanchez, put her on a microphone through his phone. Zorola said she shared a similar background to Quiñones — she attended the same high school in San Antonio and her parents did not receive an education.

“I think it’s wonderful that you’re sharing that message that it can be done, so you just have to keep moving — you have to have faith as you mentioned,” Zorola said. “It’s wonderful to have someone who believes in you, and I think that’s what you’re sharing with them today so thank you.”

Quiñones thanked her before answering more questions. He gave students advice about going through periods in their life where they feel like they are not accomplishing anything. He told them to reach out to workers who have made it in their fields.

“Don’t be afraid to approach people who have been there—  who are there now — because I think you would be surprised that they are willing to talk to you,” he said.

He also answered questions about his favorite food or scenarios his family had been a part of on the show. He also was proud to say his three children were all involved in the media. He moved on from the question-and-answer segment by ending his time on stage with a funny story. 

“He is just such a good public speaker, and I’m just grateful that it was an opportunity for us for free at that,” social work senior Danny Flores said. “When’s the next time we’re gonna be in the same room as John Quiñones?” 

Featured Image: Speaker John Quiñones addresses the crowd at the introductory IDEA speech series on Sept. 22, 2022. Photo by Charles Farmer

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Giovanni Delgadillo

Giovanni Delgadillo

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