BENTON TOWNSHIP — When Ann Curry interviewed Maya Angelou early in her career, she learned an important thing about humanity which has followed her to today.
"She said to me, 'Wherever your people came from, whether they left their country because they were hungry or wanted religious freedom or new opportunity ... everyone of us has ancestors who paid for us, who wanted us to survive'," Curry told the Economic Club of Southwestern Michigan Saturday night.
Angelou told Curry in that interview that the greatest lesson she had learned was that we've all been loved.
"I didn't even know what the next question was," Curry said. "I just got a dollop of wisdom and that was intense, but it rang true and that's why it was powerful."
Curry, an award winning journalist and photojournalist who has reported on wars, natural disasters and everything in between in her nearly 40-year career, said she learned from Angelou that we don't know what exactly our ancestors did, but we can bet they had courage and stood up to take care of their children or we would not be here.
Curry told the Mendel Center Mainstage crowd that whenever she gives a talk she hears her mother in one ear and her father in the other.
"My father always said to me, 'Always do something that is of some service to someone else because then, and only then, you know on your last day as you breathe your last breath, that it mattered that you were born," Curry said.
During the question and answer portion, someone asked Curry how she chooses her interview subjects.
She said as a journalist you have to find your motivation, and hers was helping people.
"I love journalism and I love when it's done right. I love that it can feel like being a firefighter or EMT rushing to an emergency, only you are responding with information people need to be smarter citizens, make better choices, be healthier and even protect themselves and their loved ones from danger," she said.
Curry said she interviews the people who can help people and who know something that might be valuable.
"I'm going to interview people who are hurting people and I'm going to ask them hard questions," she said. "It all comes down to motivation in whatever you do."
Curry said this can apply to any job, or however you are spending your time.
"What makes this profession or project worth your time? All of us have a limited amount of time, so how are you spending your time? Once you know that, whatever it is, know it. When you know why you are doing this thing, you will make the decisions so you do it right, so you do it in a manner you are proud of yourself."
Curry, a former NBC News Network anchor, was asked about her former co-worker Matt Laurer and what she thought about the #MeToo Movement.
Curry said she believes we are at a turning point, possibly even a third wave of feminism in which women want to not just be working, but working at their full potential.
"We are there because we're talking," Curry said. "This isn't about attraction to others, that will always be around. It's about someone in a position where they can hold something over you. It's an abuse of power."
Curry told her own story of her boss exposing himself to her when she was 16.
"I didn't know what to say, so I just started talking really fast and he pulled his pants back up," Curry said. "I didn't tell anyone and I went back to work the next day. I needed that job because I wanted to go college."
Curry told the crowd that through her career, she has seen a pattern from place to place and from the past to the present: People of influence sparking or stoking fear, then the spread of lies to send that fear out of control, and eventually people rising up and overcoming that fear to make a better society.
"We can see in our own time in conflicts like Rwanda," she said. "This is what happened in Europe leading up to WWII. For acrimony to thrive, one lie seems to be required: the lie of us and them."
Curry said we've heard this in America, where all it takes is one Tweet for people across the political spectrum to express not just disagreement, but intense, even violent hate and disgust for people they have never even met.
"The bad news is that this acrimony is like a virus, infecting politics and policy, damaging trust and relationships, even in our own families," she said. "The good news is that it's temporary. This chaos comes with one guarantee: it ends and every one of us has the power to help rush it out the door."
Curry said this starts with calling out lies, working to address the causes of discontent, supporting the truth, speaking honestly and with discipline, turning the other cheek when necessary, and refusing to accept and spread unfounded and biased information.
"We can insist on objective, well-sourced, verifiable facts from our political leaders, the news media and each other," she said. "My life's work has convinced me that the truth is a shield that can defend people, and when truth rises, so does the rest of us. We can see this in the wider story of humanity."
Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman