This past summer, I had the incredible opportunity and honor of being mentored by Richard Lui at JCamp, an all-expense-paid weeklong seminar for select high school students hosted by the Asian American Journalists Association.
Richard Lui is an educator, philanthropist, reporter, anchor, businessman, producer and activist. The first-ever Asian American male to anchor a network news program, he poses an impressive resume in this day and age, with outlets like HLN, CNN Worldwide and NBC under his belt.
Even with a myriad of accolades, Lui never played the celebrity card at JCamp — he was experienced but never haughty. Quite the fun-loving opposite, in fact — we knew he could win a lip-syncing competition to “Shawty Got Low” as easily as he could rattle off journalistic terminology in the blink of an eye.
I remember a quiet moment in our hectic JCamp schedules squeezed between conducting interviews with Minnesotan by-passers and scripting a full broadcast package. Along with a couple of friends, I opted to stay in the computer lab to finish up my project as everyone else ate their sandwiches elsewhere across the University of Minnesota campus. Lui, our broadcast mentor, was there to help out—but soon our conversation turned away from our screens to how Lui got to where he is today. He spoke with wisdom, conviction, and humility—I will never forget what he told us that day.
Lui’s background did not match up with that of the Asian stereotype.
He grew up poor on welfare, receiving food stamps. He had so many absences in school that he was kicked out and transferred to another school with a diverse background. Only a deal with the principal saved him from flunking. He skipped college and worked for Mrs. Fields Cookies for four years. After realizing he wanted an education to move beyond working in cookies, he went to a college that would take him even with his self-professed terrible grades.
There, his interests in politics and public speaking grew. With access to loans, he was able to transfer to UC Berkeley and map out his life from there. He made the deliberate choice to work for Channel NewsAsia in Singapore, covering international news in a format that was similar to CNN’s. Once he built up an impressive demo reel, he applied to work at CNN, and the rest is history.
Lui told us to seek the broad, to always pursue a wider perspective—but also not to forget the deep. The people he admires the most, he said, are those who can easily pick up a discussion on any subject and support arguments with depth. The only way to gain that broad worldview is to experience different lifestyles and cultures and expose yourself to what the world has to offer.
“As a journalist, our job is to understand a story,” he once said. “Our objective is to get the details, the content and the profile within minutes. In my profession, I need to be able to understand differences in cultures immediately to develop intercultural skills in my job.”
Lui not only reported on human trafficking in Ghana but also was part of the Habitat for Humanity team, building houses for the local people. His genuine empathy was the driving force behind years of investigative journalism and hard-earned knowledge. He is a Good Will Ambassador and part of the United Nations #HeForShe campaign, supporting multiple organizations that promote gender equality.
His real last name is Wong. This is because his grandfather was an illegal immigrant, or “paper son,” who bought fake papers in order to avoid the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, one of the most significant immigrant restrictions in American history.
The discovery of his descent from an illegal immigrant prompted Lui to delve deeper into his family’s history and the wider perspective of his culture as a whole. He broadcasted a story for CNN about other “Paper Sons and Daughters” in the country and how their history affects them today. Lui, prompted by his desire to understand our culture and history, continuously takes it upon himself to research racial inequality and seek solutions to end these evils.
What makes Lui a leader is that he uses his position as a journalist and news anchor to shed light on social injustices and therefore provoke change. By informing the public in a concise, truthful manner, he is a leader in making a difference around the world. I aspire to be like him—to increase the public’s appreciation and understanding of Asian American heritage, as he was credited when he was given the Ellison S. Onizuka Memorial Award.
And of course, Lui volunteers his time and energy every year at AAJA’s JCamp, sharing his wisdom and knowledge with the new generation. He told me that volunteering is one of the most important parts of his life—it gives him time away from work to feed his spirit and receive the blessing of giving. He is one of the most accomplished people in the world, and yet he still wholeheartedly gives back to the next generation in every way possible, even if it means dancing unabashedly in front of forty highschoolers poised to immortalize the moment on social media. Thank you, Richard, for your immeasurable wisdom and guidance.
During JCamp, I also absorbed a wealth of knowledge from other JCamp leaders including Caridad Hernandez, executive producer for investigations and special projects of CBS4 in Miami, Arelis Hernandez (2004), political reporter for Washington Post, Paul Cheung, director of interactive & digital news production for Associated Press and president of AAJA, and Neal Justin, TV critic for Minneapolis Star Tribune. Speakers included Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews, VP of CBS News, Craig Robinson, NBC diversity chairman, Boyd Huppert and Jonathan Malat from KARE, CH. 11, and Joie Chen, anchor of Al Jazeera TV.
JCamp is a six-day intensive, multicultural journalism training for high school students. Students learn from professional journalists and get hands-on training in writing, photography, television and radio broadcasting, online media and reporting.
JCamp is open to high school students currently in their freshman, sophomore or junior year.
Camp 2016 will be hosted by the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs in Washington, D.C. August 1 – 6. Applications close Sunday, March 13: http://www.aaja.org/jcamp2016/