John Quiñones grew up in San Antonio shining shoes on Guadalupe Street and riding in the back of trucks to pick cherries in Michigan. He did not speak English until he was six. In his grade school, children were punished for speaking Spanish. Quiñones said if it weren’t for an angel willing to help him here and there, he wouldn’t be where he is today: a seven-time award-winning journalist and host of ABC’s “What Would You Do?”
He attributes his success to an English teacher who encouraged him to write, and Upward Bound, a federal government education program that assists low-income, first-generation high school students in their preparation for college.
Quiñones said he welcomed the opportunity to speak at Webster because after all that has happened in Ferguson, he believes the community needs to hear something positive about how people can get along.
His lecture, Changing Ethics in America, filled the seats of the Loretto-Hilton Center on Monday, Sept. 22.
For Webster student Trinity Hamilton, seeing Quiñones’ lecture was a chance to tell him thank you. If it weren’t for his show, she said she wouldn’t be where she is today.
Hamilton suffers from Asperger syndrome and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). When she was in the first and second grade she didn’t know how to read or write. Hamilton said she felt isolated by her peers and felt no one could understand her pain. After watching an episode of “What Would You Do?” about a child with autism who was being mistreated, she was surprised to see people defend the child and empathize with him.
“When I saw that episode I realized I’m not alone, people do understand,” Hamilton said. “I just have to find those people and I’ll be ok.”
Nikki Parres, assistant director of the Multicultural Center and International Student Affairs, said one of the key messages Quiñones expressed in his lecture was perseverance.
“It’s been awhile since one of our events was filled by all students,” Parres said. “You can tell they were moved by the lecture.”
“What Would You Do?” creates scenarios where actors challenge everyday people to make ethical decisions. Quiñones said the show is journalism in its truest form.
“But time and again, in every one of our scenarios, you’ll see someone who does something beautiful,” Quiñones said. “Sometimes, at risk to themselves, they speak up for the victim, and I love that universal message and I don’t think we have enough of it these days.”
Quiñones said one of his favorite episodes is about one of his actors portraying a homeless man who was passed out on a busy street in New York City with a beer can in his hand. Many people passed by and didn’t bother to call for help until one woman named Linda Hamilton, who was at one time homeless, saw the man and asked people walking by if someone could call for help. Again, no one would listen. Without a cell phone of her own, Linda Hamilton then looked at the sky as if she were angry at God and removed the beer can from his hand. Eventually another woman stopped and called for help.
Many people who saw the episode were moved by Linda Hamilton’s kindness and wanted to help her in some way. Fans of the show started a Facebook page called “Touched by Linda Hamilton” and raised money for her much-needed healthcare and a cell phone so that next time she could call for help.
Quiñones said he asked Linda Hamilton if she were a hero and she said, “No John, I’m not a hero. The reason I did this was because I’ve been there; I’ve walked in the shoes of a homeless person.”
Quiñones said his moral compass was also changed by his show. Now when he comes across ethical situations he steps in for the victim and does not think twice about what he should do.