Well life and priorities got in the way of continuing my January MSBA conference blog posting.. however, I think now is the perfect time to share about keynote speakers John Quiñones (leadership and doing the right thing) and Alan November (technology and learning).
John Quiñones, host of “What Would You Do?” shared his personal journey in overcoming adversity that is still very real today to become successful in news and network television. He also shared his perspective on how journalism and his show have a role in “holding a mirror to American society” that can challenge us and enable us to “unlock the power and light in each of us.”
Quiñones’ personal story began with facing the bigotry of low expectations in education and in the assumptions cast upon him by others as he pursued his dream of becoming a news anchor. The “For You,” paradigm that tells people a lower goal is good enough for them and the messages of “don’t aim that high” was prevalent at every turn as he established and pursued his dream. This can happen with any student, even with our own children. I have found myself casting my busy and creative son into “for you,” categories as well as my focused and Type A daughter into a different “for you” set of expectations and goals. Today’s most recent neuroscience has helped us better understand that our brains automatically categorize and create paradigms to enable us to make sense of the world. Unfortunately, without the work to constantly be aware of our own “brain short-cuts,” we fall prey to incorrect, unjust, and completely false paradigms of people and abilities.. as I do with my own children before I even realize it. Quiñones shared his experience in overcoming this constant message of “you can’t achieve that,” “don’t set yourself up for failure,” “don’t aim that high.” These stories are particularly impactful to me as I consider my and my brothers’ experience in working to become the first in our family in many different things. When you are a young person, working to develop and chase your dreams, the language of “are you sure?” and “maybe you should consider something else that would be really good ‘for you,’” is devastating.
Quiñones also shared his experiences with those who came along side him and encouraged him, challenged him, and supported him to become successful. This was also impactful to me as I have benefited from those who chose to see my potential and ability and supported me by lending me their guidance, their network of opportunities, and their encouragement to become successful. As a fiercely independent person, I’ve always been skeptical of “help.” Due to my personal experiences, I felt I was never going to give someone the opportunity to say my success was the result of their “favors” or to “special treatment.” In fact, early in my career, I avoided this as an afront to my own skills and capabilities to succeed on my own at all costs. In my personal reflection, I have found that there were always more people supporting me than those who may have created a negative in my life. While this may not be the experience of all, I challenge us to not only look for the negatives around us but to look for the positives, to see how much good there is around us, and how many more people desire to help versus those who desire to harm.
Quiñones’ show “What Would You Do?,” takes this concept even further, shedding light on those who step in when no one is looking, when it is a stranger facing an unjust situation, when it’s uncomfortable or easier to just ignore the situation. As he shared story after story from his show, his central question to the audience was, what do you do when you witness injustice? He asked, “Do you do something, or do you step away.” He challenged the audience with the universal truth we all know in our heart of hearts.. “What do we do when no one is looking?” What does this say about the reality of who we – you – I am? While his show demonstrated the many who do nothing, he also meant it to encourage viewers to choose to be the one who steps in and to use the show to “unlock the power and light in each of us,” through that challenge.
At this time in our history, as we all face the problem of Covid and the associated problems created by trying to manage it, this question is more obvious than ever and presents us with the opportunity to grow and learn. How do we participate in our everyday encounters? How to we react to what we see around us? How do we respond to our community’s needs? How do we engage in the social media free for all that is quick to judge our teachers, our kids, our fellow parents, effectively everyone and everything? How do we move from being reactive to being proactive to participate in creating something different than what we might see today? Is it possible to create a different community that would render the show “What Would You Do?” obsolete because the majority of people do the right thing every time? “The Great Pause” we are experiencing today can give us the opportunity to not only reflect on the questions John Quiñones presented to the MSBA conference attendees, but also decide how we will choose to act – to lead – now and in the future.