1. This year’s theme is “US Humans” What do you immediately think of when you ponder US Humans?
When I taught in Korea I was always amazed at how, no matter the differences in language and culture, my students were just like every other student in America. My fifth graders thought fart jokes were the funniest thing on Earth. My middle school girls were more into boy bands and gossiping than my science class. The oldest boys in my class were constantly trying to subtly tell me inappropriate jokes. The young adults that I met while there, in Japan, in Thailand, in Hong Kong, they all struggled with the same pressures: getting a good job, figuring out how to pay for University, going out with their friends to relax. No matter where I went there were obvious differences, but inside we were all virtually the same and it absolutely floored me how we could communicate without being able to speak a word of the same language.
To me, #UsHumans means celebrating our differences and learning from each other every day, while also remembering that underneath it all we’re still on this planet to live and love together.
2. Who has had the most significant influence on you in your adult life and why?
My mother has always been the strongest person I know and has been a driving force behind my success not just in my adult life but throughout my entire life. When I was a child she always emphasized that my education was the most important thing I could focus on. Anything less than an ‘A’ in my house was side-eyed. C’s were never acceptable, and she practiced what she preached. She went back to school to get her Master’s when I was still in middle school. When I was in high school she went back to school to get certified to become a principal. Her motto was that you should always try to improve yourself.
After my first semester in college I remember being so excited that I had not only made it, but that I had the highest GPA out of all my friends. I excitedly brought my grades home only to be reprimanded by my mother because “there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a 4.0”. I was furious, righteously indignant even! I argued that I had the best GPA out of all my friends and my mother told me, “You’re not competing with your friends, you’re competing with yourself!” I went back to school the next semester with renewed vigor, not because I wanted to make good grades but because I wanted to prove to my parents that I was capable. By the end of that semester I had my 4.0, I had made Dean’s List, was part of the campus newspaper and had been accepted into the School of Journalism and Communications. My parents were surprised, I was smug, but my mother just smiled and told me she didn’t push me to be mean, she pushed me because she knew that this was what I was capable of. It stuck.
She has always believed in me, has always been the reason I push myself to do more, to get out of my comfort zone. Because if I don’t push myself how will I ever get to the level of amazing I know I can achieve?
3. What is it about your work that keeps you going?
Sometimes, especially lately with the President and many others belittling the entire journalism profession, I wonder why I keep doing it. Why do I bother working so hard to tell the truth, to be accurate, to make my stories the best they can be when someone is inevitably going to turn around and tell you that your job is a lie? Then I remember the stories I’ve gotten to tell and draw attention to. The two transgender children who are supposed to be enjoying their childhoods but are instead worried about the bathroom they are going to be allowed to use at school. The female ambulance operators who make up less than 5% of the entire Fire Department but head into work every day determined to be treated the exact same as everyone else. The thank you’s I get from strangers for telling both sides of a story. It’s those moments that make all the hard work and stress worth it, because I’m determined to be more than reporter, I’m going to be a storyteller.
4. What is your passion outside your idea worth spreading?
I’m most passionate about making other people happy and paying it forward.
5. Where’s the one place you’ve visited that you’ll never forget and why?
I’ll never forget the first time I visited Tokyo. It was my first solo trip in Asia outside of moving to Korea and I was so nervous I almost cancelled the trip last minute out of fear alone. Instead, as soon as I got there I made a ton of friends, ate my weight in ramen, saw Sumo wrestling live and lived out a dream my 12 year old self would not have even believed. Best 5 days of my life.
6. Describe an unforgettable moment that shaped who you are.
I was flying back from overseas and was in the back of a taxi headed back to my little apartment in Korea when my at least 60-year-old taxi driver turned around and started excitedly speaking to me in rapid fire Korean. After almost 12 hours of travelling I was too exhausted to understand English let alone another language, so it took my mind a minute to catch up to the fact that he was asking to see my hand. I was perplexed, but at a red light I cautiously held my hand out palm up for him to see. He flipped it over and tried to rub the color off my hand. He was so shocked that the brown didn’t come off my hand he nearly swerved us off the road when the light turned green! “Has it always been that color?! From BIRTH?!” he asked me, and I told him, “Yes, always.” The entire encounter left me amused but also completely stunned. This man had never seen anyone like me in his life, I was his first encounter with a brown person! I was undoubtedly going to be the subject of story telling with his friends and family for weeks, months even. Two reasons why I’ll never forget this moment: it taught me that, even abroad, I was a precedent, a representative for my entire race. It also taught me that sometimes they didn’t mean for it to be an insult, they simply had no idea what I was about. I was exhausted but I was awake that night thinking for hours.
7. List three words that describe you.
Indefatigable, ambitious, friendly
8. Are there any books that contributed to who you are? Is so, which one(s)?
“To Kill A Mockingbird” for obvious reasons, but also, and this is going to sound so bizarre, but ‘Wuthering Heights’ was the first book I read where I wanted the “bad guy” to win because he was different and I related to the fact that sometimes, no matter what you do, people are going to try to tear you down because of who you are.
9. For your talk content, what’s recommended reading?
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison and ‘Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?’ by Beverly Daniel Tatum.
10.Why do you want to speak at TEDxBend?
To be honest, I’m absolutely terrified to give a talk on a subject as controversial as race when I’ve avoided the subject my whole life in order to avoid making people uncomfortable. That’s also exactly why I feel it’s important. I think it’s incredibly important to have these conversations because when we ignore our differences, when we try to prove that we’re all the same, we never progress or learn crucial lessons from each other that could make this world a better place.