Ann Curry hopes to see the power of women unleashed and unbound in the world in her lifetime.
The journalist and humanitarian said the country’s women are rising, defending other women and standing up for themselves in a way that hasn’t happened since the late 1960s.
“People who stand up for others embody humanity’s greatest hope,” she said.
Curry was the keynote speaker at the annual Power of the Purse fundraiser. The event raises awareness and money for Collier County women and girls at risk of such problems as homelessness, insufficient health care and education, domestic violence and abuse.
The event, hosted by the Women’s Foundation of Collier County and held at The Ritz-Carlton beach resort in North Naples, funds grants to local nonprofit organizations that help women and girls. Twenty percent of the money raised this year will benefit senior women in Collier County affected by Hurricane Irma.
Curry talked to about 500 people, mostly women, in a ballroom about her career and the lessons she has learned about the power and importance of empathy.
She didn’t discuss her departure from the "Today" show and NBC News. Her speech on the power and importance of women supporting women comes at a time when women are coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior in the workplace and elsewhere.
Curry said she has seen evil, she has seen good and she has sought to understand both human qualities.
During her career as a journalist, photojournalist and humanitarian, she witnessed the suffering of people whose countries were torn apart by wars, uprisings and natural disasters. She interviewed world leaders accused of causing harm to the citizens of their countries.
She also witnessed the empathy of people willing to protect others even when it put their own lives at risk.
Empathy, she hopes, is what will define humanity and end the “us versus them” mentality that perpetuates global conflict.
Despite her sheltered upbringing in a small town in Oregon, she remembers how learning about the Holocaust in school opened her heart to the plight of the persecuted.
“When I found out what happened to Anne Frank and others during World War II, I wondered how can people go on?” Curry said. “What is the greatness in them that allowed them to still rise?”
Curry said she started looking for a way to be a person who would stand up for humanity instead of standing by watching.
“My work in journalism has been my way of practicing to try to be a better human being,” Curry said. “I tried to show the world the truth so people didn’t suffer in silence the way they did during the Holocaust.”
While reporting on genocides and war crimes, she said she asked herself: Is there capacity for inhumanity deeply rooted in all of us? Is this darkness part of what it means to be human?
At the same time, as she saw people’s villages burned down and children used as soldiers, she saw people who could hardly feed themselves shield orphans from harm.
She saw evil acts counterbalanced by acts of selflessness and asked herself: Is empathy, sometimes courageous empathy, a characteristic only of good people? Or is it an intrinsic part of what it means to be human? Is empathy in all of us?
“How long before humans learn there is no them, there is only us?” Curry said to the audience.
“We are all sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, daughters and sons in one human family, connected to the same genetic Adam and Eve.
"When we realize this, will our future be overrun by humans who refuse to stand by while other people suffer?
"I think the answer is yes. In the meantime, I hope. I hope. Don’t you?”