The Power of Public Media

Pat Harrison on The Power of Public Media: APTS Summit

APTS Summit CPB Program:
The Power of Public Media
Remarks by Patricia Harrison
President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting
Monday, February 22, 2016

Good afternoon and welcome.

Before we begin our program, I want to thank Pat Butler for securing CPB’s appropriation and for delivering a substantive and snow-free APTS summit. But more importantly, for providing the opportunity to engage with Members of Congress to talk about the power of public media changing lives.

I’m Pat Harrison, and I have the honor to work with each of you in my role as president and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Now, many of you know that I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, but what you may not know is that one of the books that impacted my life as a teenager, and even today, was “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. The book’s heroine is a young girl, Francie Nolan, who struggles to stay in school and rise above poverty.

This is a story public media is telling through American Graduate, only, instead of Francie Nolan, it is Roque from “The Homestretch,” or the kids in “180 Days,” or Keihen Kitchen, whose story was told by ideastream. Similar to Francie, these kids have very little except their tenacity, their grit.

In words often described as one of the most beautiful sentences in literature, Francie Nolan prays, “Let me be something every hour of my life.” Today, we are going to hear from four extraordinary people who were determined to be something every moment of their lives and became champions on behalf of young people like Roque and Keihen and so many others—helping them be “something” as well.

Our speakers and honorees all come together from diverse backgrounds and experiences to support and partner with public media, because the power of public media lies in our ability to connect to people’s lives in impactful ways. And to serve every American—not only on air or online but face to face in our communities and ensuring every child is ready to learn; every person has access to lifelong learning; every veteran can connect to resources and support; and every citizen has access to fact-based local, national and global journalism.

Each of you here makes this goal a reality. And that includes a group of very special people: members of the CPB Board of Directors, several of whom are with us today. They are appointed by the president of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. They are committed to our mission. I am pleased for you to meet the Chair of our Board Liz Sembler; CPB’s Vice Chair Lori Gilbert and the Chair of CPB’s Executive Compensation Committee Dr. Jan Dates.


And welcome as well to the many men and women who serve on public media boards throughout the country.

We are very proud that every day more people, businesses, organizations and foundations are committing their time and resources to support the work of public media, especially through American Graduate, an initiative aimed at helping young people at risk to graduate from high school. In fact—and this is an extraordinary number—in just the last 18 months, new funders, inspired by your work with American Graduate, have donated more than $15 million to stations. That’s $15 million in just 18 months, a powerful affirmation of your work.

Let’s take a look.


Congratulations to all of you.

Willa Cather, in “My Antonia,” wrote, “At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.” And the mission of public broadcasting is complete and great. How we achieve it requires our talents and a commitment to serving all Americans in ways that are relevant to their lives now and for the future. The mission requires we work in partnership with many people of diverse backgrounds to ensure we are listening to the changing story of America and reflecting the many voices that are part of that story.

Our honorees and speakers are making sure those stories are told. Lucille Roybal-Allard was not yet a teenager when her father Edward Roybal first won office. Edward served as a member of the Los Angeles City Council and the U.S. House of Representatives.

But Lucille recalls open discrimination against Mexican-Americans when she was growing up and watched it intensify once her father, a veteran of World War II, became a public figure. She said, “The racial slurs and not-so-quiet whispers directed at him and our family remain vivid in our minds even today.”

But instead of being crushed by these slurs and attacks, she strengthened her resolve to fight discrimination and give voice to those who did not have economic or political power. Lucille chose politics. Eventually, after winning a seat in the California Assembly, she succeeded her father in the House of Representatives, becoming the first Mexican-American woman elected to that body. She is also the first Latina appointed to the House Appropriations Committee.

And she is tenacious. Whenever I meet with her, she wants to know how public media is serving unserved and underserved audiences. She believes that a commitment to diversity at all levels of public media is our core responsibility. She is both a thought leader and advocate on behalf of America’s young people, women and veterans. And we are very grateful that she is also an advocate for public media.

Please watch the video.


Joining me are Lucille’s constituents from public media: Sandy Pedlow, executive director, Latino Public Broadcasting; Andy Russell, president and CEO, PBS SoCaL; and Michael Reilly, president and CEO, KCETLink. They join me to present Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard with the 2016 Thought Leader Award.

Please welcome the congresswoman.

Congresswoman, it gives us great pleasure to acknowledge your leadership and support of public media with this award.


Congratulations, Stan. Ladies and gentlemen, Stan Law.

As you are beginning to see, each of our speakers had a moment in their lives when they made a choice to serve, to lead, to become champions on behalf of others. Ultimately, this choice led to great partnerships with public media.

Three months ago, Dr. Victor Rios gave a powerful presentation in New York before a live audience for the CPB-funded TED Talks: The Education Revolution. He is also featured in a new film supported by Latino Public Broadcasting called “The Push Outs.” But Victor Rios was not always Dr. Rios, Ph.D., author, speaker and educator. And his path was not an easy one.

He was born in Mexico and came to the United States at the age of three with his mother and older brother. The family settled in Oakland, California, and lived in one of Oakland’s roughest high-poverty neighborhoods. Victor struggled in school from the beginning, dropped out when he was a teenager and joined a gang.

When one of his best friends was killed by a gang member and died in Victor’s arms, Victor had nowhere to turn. But there was a champion in his life, Mrs. Russ, his teacher, who saw value in Victor and began the long process of helping him recognize his potential and self-worth. Today, Victor is helping other students rise above their circumstances and realize their potential.

Please watch the video.


Thank you Victor, Lucille, Roy and Stan and each of you for helping others, through public media, achieve something complete and great.

And for those general managers and members of boards who are visiting Members of Congress tomorrow, imagine that you are walking into those meetings and bringing with you hundreds of thousands of people—children, parents, teachers, veterans, community and business leaders—who have personally experienced the power of public media to enhance and change their lives for the better. That’s a fact that everyone can celebrate and support!

Thank you.