JACKSON TWP. The 26th year of the Kent State University at Stark Featured Speakers Series wrapped up with a visit from ABC news anchor John Quinones, who shared his story of overcoming poverty in rural Texas and breaking stereotypes.
Quinones, well-known as the creator and host of the TV show "What Would You Do?," a hidden-camera show that puts bystanders in situations that force them to either take action or walk away in uncomfortable situations. He has also spent more than 30 years at ABC and anchors shows such as "20/20" and "Primetime."
The evening with Quinones at the Kent State at Stark's Jackson Township campus on April 21, was entertaining, funny, interesting and inspiring.
Quinones started from his early beginnings near San Antonio, where his Spanish-speaking family had lived for seven generations. He grew up poor and and did not speak English as he entered first grade, which proved to be a tough transition since, he said, his teacher did not speak Spanish. On the first day of class and the bell rung for children to head to the playground for recess, Quinones instead went home, thinking that school had been let out after just two hours.
Quinones eventually learned English with the help of three whacks from a paddle, a punishment handed down by teachers to students who spoke Spanish during class.
"(The paddles) had holes drilled into it for extra speed an power," Quinones said.
"People who only know me from television have no idea of the long hard struggle that it took for John Quinones to get to ABC News. You know how some people say they were poor but they didn't know they were poor? We knew we were poor," he added.
At eight years old, Quinones shined shoes at bars for money to help his family. When he was 13, the family journeyed 1,700 miles from Texas to Michigan with migrant farmers to pick cherries for 75 cents a bucket. When they finished in Michigan, they followed the crops into Ohio - near Toledo - and picked tomatoes for 35 cents a bushel.
Quinones, who said he picked 100 bushels a day along with his mother, father and sisters, said the family learned the value of working together in the times of adversity. But it wasn't what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, and when asked by his father if he wanted to continue to pick crops or go to college, Quinones said said it was a no-brainer.
He set out to achieve a dream since he was 12 years old to become a television reporter.
"It was an uphill battle. I was the kid that was expected not to become much," said Quinones,
He said that teachers - much like some of the people in situations on "What Would You Do?" - prejudged him and steered him toward wood shop or automotive classes due to the "the color of my skin and the accent in my voice."
Quiniones, however, said it was the words "in times of adversity, you got to have faith," by Martin Luther King Jr. which inspired him.
"And faith is taking that first step," said Quniones.
Quinones' first step was taking drama classes to help him overcome shyness and his accent. He played Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet." The best thing about that, he joked, was that he got to kiss Juliet.
"We practiced kissing behind the stage, so we would get it right," he said.
As for "What Would You Do?," it is still going strong after more than 500 scenarios during an 11-year run. It begins a new season on Friday nights in June.
"It is a show that forces you to look in a mirror and ask yourself the question, 'When I witness bigotry, sexism, racism, bullying, spousal abuse, any kind of injustice, and that little voice in the back of your head says do something,' do you step in or do you step away," Quinones said.
He said while the show restores faith that there is a lot of good out there, "It also reminds us that there is a lot of work to be done," Quinones said.
More than 120 speakers have taken the stage throughout the 26 years of the school's free speakers series. This year's group also included Max Brooks, R.J. Mitte and Susan Cahalan.
Next year's speakers will be announced within the next couple of months and ticket information can be found at www.kent.edu/stark/featured-speakers-series. Tickets are needed, however they are free and can be picked up at the school.