Primetime television anchor kicks off Power of Diversity Lecture series

John Quiñones shares story about overcoming racial roadblocks to become first Latino correspondent for ABC News

Suneil Kamath, Staff Reporter

Born to a janitor and a maid, ABC News correspondent and host of “Primetime: What Would Do?,” John Quiñones grew up in a poor household in San Antonio, Texas. As a young Hispanic child, Quiñones says his world was woven with racial injustices against people of color; however, with hard work, seizing opportunities when they arose and a bit of luck, Quiñones was able to overcome the racial roadblocks and become a seven-time Emmy Award winning author. He shared his story as the keynote speaker for Case Western Reserve University’s Office of Inclusion, Diversity & Equal Opportunity Lecture Series 2013-2014 Power of Diversity lecture series.

After a welcome from CWRU President Barbara Snyder, Dr. Marilyn Mobley, vice president for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equal Opportunity at CWRU, introduced the lecture series and Quiñones.

Mobley explained how the Power of Diversity series started in 2009 to highlight CWRU faculty whose work focuses on various aspects of diversity. The mission of the series is to help spark dialogue and engagement about diversity and inclusion in our culture today.

Quiñones’ speech, titled, “20/20 Vision of Diversity,” walked audience members through his life and how his Hispanic heritage played a role in his development, as well as his work today.

As a child, Quiñones stated that he knew his family was always poor; after his father became unemployed, his family migrated across America going from job to job. As a child, Quiñones can remember earning only 75 cents for a bucket for cherries, after picking them for two hours. He also remembers when, after picking cherries, his family tried to eat at a local restaurant and were thrown out for being Hispanic farm workers.

Even though his parents were migrant workers, they understood the importance of education and the necessity for Quiñones to break the cycle of poverty.

One day while farming, Quiñones’ father told him “Do you want to do this job for the rest of your life, or do you want to go to college?” And from that moment, Quiñones had a spark that he was destined for greater accomplishments.

Even though he wanted to go to college, Quiñones explained how the odds were stacked against him and other Hispanic students at his school. When talking with his guidance counselor, Quiñones remembered how she told him he should consider going to vocational school, and implied that college was not an option for Hispanic students like him.

Quiñones’ English teacher, however, noticed his passion for writing and inspired him to become involved in the high school newspaper and pursue it beyond grade school. Eventually, through the U.S. government’s Upward Bound program, Quiñones was able to pursue a post-secondary education.

After college, though, life was challenging for Quiñones. Quiñones knew he wanted to go into broadcasting, but could not find a job at any of the television stations due to his ethnicity. Almost giving up, he decided to get his masters degree at Columbia University to further his knowledge and career.

After graduating from Columbia, Quiñones eventually landed a job at ABC News, and covered issues mainly dealing with Central and Latin America and immigrants in the United States.

Because of his heritage and his ability to speak Spanish, Quiñones was able to connect with Hispanics unlike many other journalists at the time and use his media power to highlight some of the atrocities they endured.

For example, he once got a job as a dishwasher and worked with other illegal immigrants. In short, Quiñones stated that the boss refused to pay them and threatened to call immigration every time they asked for their wages.

The boss also forced them to sleep in the basement of the restaurant. Quiñones was able to secretly record the events and bring national attention to the issue. Immigration eventually closed the restaurant down and gave the immigrants visas to stay in the country.

Quiñones stated that, as a journalist, his job is to “Give a voice to people who don’t have a voice.” And because of his Hispanic heritage, he claims, he is able to do that.

As Quiñones opened, “America is changing right before our eyes, and we have to do a better job of integrating our communities….We all can be destined to great things if we simply believe.”