University of Central Missouri: Quiñones Inspires UCM Audience to ‘Do the Right Thing’ When Witnessing an Injustice

From growing up in a life of poverty to becoming a successful ABC network news veteran who has interviewed everyone from homeless individuals to world leaders, John Quiñones shared his thoughts on the power of “doing the right thing” with a University of Central Missouri audience Feb. 23 in Nahm Auditorium.

Known for his long-running hidden-camera program, “What Would You Do?,” Quiñones’ inspirational message was made possible by the university’s Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity, and was the first talk in what the university hopes will become on an ongoing series of presentations by distinguished campus visitors.

After meeting earlier with various student groups, Quiñones’ public presentation highlighted his personal journey from meager surroundings to breaking down barriers that enabled him to live out his Latino American dream. Along the way, he has accumulated a national fan base from experiences such as serving on the anchor desk at ABC’s “20/20” program and reporting for “Primetime,” while also garnering accolades that include seven Emmy Awards.

During his presentation, Quiñones spoke about diversity and inclusion, and noted the importance of valuing other individuals. He connected this sentiment with a number of examples from his “What Would You Do?” program that often places people in situations where they face ethical dilemmas or interactions with others who are different from themselves. It reveals how people sometimes think and act when they believe no one is watching, the guest speaker said.

“I created the show to remind America that, yes, there may be differences among us, but also great similarities. You know, we are all human with the same basic desires and dreams and ambitions and the need to be loved and the need to love others and be accepted,” he said. “It’s a show that’s all about confronting issues like discrimination, racism, bullying.”

He said that as a journalist for more than 30 years, he has been pleased to shed light on the “things that people sometimes don’t want to hear about, and sometimes they don’t want to see.” His television program is a conduit for demonstrating why such a goal is important.

“It’s a show I created because I wanted to unlock the power and the light that exists within each one of us, so that we are all better equipped to say, ‘you know, that’s wrong.’ Or, ‘’how can I help?’ And what a better tool to do that with than on national television with hidden cameras,” Quiñones said.

“What Would You Do?” gets people to think about different kinds of injustices. It encourages viewers to consider how they should respond in situations where someone is treated wrongly, whether that may be a spousal abuse situation or over issues related to the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and more.

While his long-running television program has put Quiñones in the spotlight as a champion for encouraging people to “do the right thing,” he is often inspired by the examples set by those who unknowingly become part of his program. One person he remembers fondly was the result of a segment filmed in New Jersey which featured a disheveled, grungy, homeless man who had fallen with a beer can in his hand and was ignored by passersby.

“So we got an actor – an elderly actor – to play that role,” Quiñones said, He added that while posing as a homeless person, this man convincingly collapsed near a street, but when 88 people initially walked by, no one stopped to help him.

“People were stepping over him. One lady made the sign of the cross and kept walking. And we were blown away,” Quiñones remembered. “I said, I guess if you are homeless, you are not going to get a lot of help here. So I was about ready to come out with the cameras, but before I could get out there though, we heard the tapping of a walking cane on the sidewalk…suddenly into the frame of a hidden camera comes this beautiful African American woman who is stumbling along with a cane because she has suffered a stroke. And, guess what? She’s homeless herself.”

Quiñones said the women stopped and began to ask people passing by if that had a cell phone that she could use to call 9-1-1 to provide assisstance for the man who had fallen. Thirty-seven more individuals walked by but didn’t assist, Quiñones said.

“She then stumbled down and did something we didn’t expect. She, on hidden camera, takes the beer can out of the actor’s hand and stumbles over with her cane to the trash can and throws it away, as if she is thinking, maybe if I give him a little bit of dignity and people don’t think he’s a drunk, maybe people will stop to help. But guess what? Forty-two more people we were counting go by and no one was stopping,” Quiñones said.

“She stumbled down again, saying to the man (as overheard on his hidden mircrophone) ‘Sir, I don’t know your name, but I’m going to call you Billy. And my name is Linda Hamilton. Don’t you worry my man, I’m going to stay here until help arrives because I am homeless, too.’”

Quiñones said another woman finally stopped and provided a cell phone that could be used to call 9-1-1. Amid all the commotion that followed this woman’s assistance, when Quiñones emerged with the camera crew to speak to those involved, Hamilton had already slipped away.

When the story aired, viewers aided in efforts to find her, and they set up a Go Fund Me page to help her financially. Weeks later, after Hamilton was located, the program host sat with her on church steps and interviewed her while delivering good news.

“So we got her $8,000 in the bank which viewers had sent in, and we got her a house to live in that ABC paid for, we got her medicine for her heart condition, and the thing that made her most excited of all – we got her her own cell phone,” Quiñones said. “She was jumping up and down with joy like a 12-year-old with her first phone. I said, ‘Now Linda, when you witness an injustice, you can call 9-1-1.’”

As the interview continued, Quiñones asked Hamilton how she felt about people on social media labeling her an “angel” and a “hero.”

“She gave me this dead-on look, straight in the face, and said, ‘No way… Let me tell you what happened that day. I think God put me on that corner of that street on that day because he knew you were there with your ‘What Would You Do?’ cameras, and he wanted to teach people a lesson, and who better to teach that lesson tham someone who has walked in the shoes of the homeless.’”

“Tonight I leave you with that message,” Quiñones told the UCM crowd. “The next time you witness an injustice, racism, bullying, someone stealing, and the little voice in the back of your head says ‘do something,’ remember the words and the actions of this woman, Linda Hamilton, a woman who was homeless, who had suffered a stroke and yet she stopped to help a stranger, not because she was going to be on national television – she didn’t know that – not because she was going to get $8,000 in the bank and medicine for her heart and a house to live in and her own cell phone…her heart told her it was the right thing to do.”

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