Use your powers for good.
I am the daughter of a war refugee who grew up under an occupying dictatorship in Korea, with no right to an education, no freedom of speech, no free press.
She left everything she knew for a country she’d only seen on a map, to live with strangers, speak a new language, so she could have those privileges.
I am the granddaughter of a man who was an orphan born in what is now North Korea. He was an early convert to Christianity in a country where that was illegal. He was a pastor who was imprisoned and tortured nearly to death by a racist, anti-Christian government that had no freedom of religion.
I am the niece of a human rights activist, who advocated on behalf of women stolen and used as sex slaves.
She was put on a death list by a military dictator for advocating for democracy, in a nation without a right to assemble peaceably.
I am the descendent of remarkable people, but more importantly, a descendent of people who faced terrifying fear with unimaginable bravery.
This is my bedrock, my foundation, my purpose. It’s the example they set for me.
It guides me. It lights my way. It both frightens and compels me.
Growing up in Maryland, I first heard those family stories, the bedrock of my own conscience, as I learned about the world through the pages of The Washington Post.
It was my hometown newspaper, one my parents reinforced to me was run by a woman, Katharine Graham.
She was a woman born to wealth and privilege, with a narrative, a bedrock so different from mine, that I couldn’t imagine a connection.
But there would be one, because my parents were inadvertently raising a girl who would become a journalist and a woman who would become a publisher.
There were the weekends in 1978 that our parents marched us in front of the White House, protesting two dictators, one in Korea who had forced my aunt into hiding for speaking against him, the other in Iran, a country I had to look up on a map.
In the orange bell-bottoms from a consignment store and my Dorothy Hamill haircut, I’d wear the poster board protest sign hanging from colored yarn around my neck.
“Down with Park Chung-Hee,” the 7-year-old me and my 5-year-old sister would chant for our aunt and her homeland.
“Down with the Shah,” we’d chant for the protesters standing on their own bedrock of sacrifice and sorrow, our parents explaining how fortunate we were to have the right of peaceable protest.
I remember reading the stories in the Washington Post in 1979, the year I was 8 years old, that first “the Shah” and then Park were removed by force.
That year, when this little girl who would become a journalist learned the Shah of Iran was ousted by a revolution and Park was assassinated by the Korean CIA, my mother was older than I am now and had never seen democracy in Korea.
In time, I learned from newspapers that what replaced the Shah was worse. I learned that even tremendous bravery in good causes doesn’t always result in a good outcome. That our democracy, a precious privilege, is fragile and remarkable and must be defended.
Flash forward two years to 1981, the year I was 10. Picture me in the kitchen in my Girl Scout uniform reading on the front page of the newspaper that President Reagan had nominated the first woman to the Supreme Court of the United States.
I stood on the blue and white linoleum, with my green sash covered in badges and said her name out loud: Sandra. Day. O’Connor.
Sandra. Day. O’Connor.
Like a poem.
And then I whispered to myself, “I can be anything. Anything at all.”
Flash forward 35 years, and I’m in a board room in Phoenix being introduced to Justice O’Connor as the publisher of the Arizona Republic, her hometown newspaper.
Justice O’Connor, an actual living legend. A woman who had inspired me my whole life. She took both my hands in hers, and said, “I’m so honored to meet you. What (the newspaper) does is vital to democracy. Please use your powers for good. It’s never been more important.”
I could marvel at the pure American magnificence of it. That a little Korean refugee’s daughter could become a publisher, be a part of protecting a democracy, join the board of the Institute that bears the name of the first female justice of the Supreme Court.
And I smiled, and said, “Yes, Justice. I promise.”
All those childhood inspirations, my aunts, my grandparents, Post Publisher Katharine Graham, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, all a part of my bedrock that has formed my purpose, made it easy to promise to use my powers for good.
They were with me when I stood up to the boss who threatened my marriage and career.
They were in my heart when I declined to run an ad supporting a pedophile priest and was pummeled with protests and death threats.
They were my voice when I answered the anonymous cowards threatening to bomb my car and harm my employees after a presidential endorsement.
They inspired me to weigh in on the sex harassment coverage with some of my own experiences in newsrooms and business, including calling out a powerful politician for sexist behavior.
And they are who make me feel sheepish to be thought of as brave in any measure for any of it.
I’m the granddaughter of a man who was willing to die rather than renounce his faith.
I’m the niece of a woman who was put on a death list for speaking against a dictator and fighting for democracy.
I’m the daughter of a refugee who gave up everything she knew so I could be born in a place with freedom of religion, free speech, a free press, the right to assemble peaceably, to address grievances against the government.
A few weeks ago, I left the industry in which I’d spent more than half my life. The career that had given me gifts for which I’m grateful beyond measure.
And one that I knew it was time to leave.
Some said I was crazy. And some said I was fearless.
Neither is true.
I was perfectly sane and not entirely without fear when I faced the fact that while I loved the newspaper, and the people, and the journalism, I didn’t love the job anymore.
And that I needed to do something I would love.
So I took a leap, to things I’ve never done before, to help reimagine and help journalism in new ways.
I started MAP Strategies Group aimed at helping businesses in disruption define, focus and fulfill their purpose and accelerate their success.
I joined ASU as a professor as the chair for media innovation and leadership to work with the next generation of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs to protect and promote a robust democracy.
I leaped to something that inspires me and fills me with purpose.
And when I did, I landed on my bedrock.
I thought of that little girl with the protest sign, in the Girl Scout uniform, the one who learned that sometimes things don’t work out in the timeframe you dream of. But when you have purpose as your bedrock, it’s just a little easier to be brave.
So I would challenge you: Have your purpose as your bedrock. Do what you love. Be brave. And use your powers for good. It’s never been more important.
Mi-Ai Parrish is CEO and President of MAP Strategies Group and the Sue Clark-Johnson Chair in Media Innovation and Leadership at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications.