Raise Up Extraordinary Women: Kris Vera-Phillips

Kris Vera-Phillips

This daily #OneGoodThing was dedicated to celebrating extraordinary women I know last December. Many of the 31 bold, beautiful, brave women featured shared stories of perseverance after abuse, addiction, miscarriages, illness, and loss. They represent various fields and backgrounds, and I admire each for their passion and strength. The series was so deeply inspiring that I felt it needed to live on as a weekly feature in 2020. Each Monday, I’ll introduce you to another incredible superhero—including artists, businesswomen, union organizers, nurses, writers, teachers, movie makers, designers, reporters, and all-around badasses. It’s about finding the extraordinary in each of us!

Kris Vera-Phillips is an Emmy Award-winning news producer with more than 14 years experience in broadcast journalism. She recently worked as the senior news producer at KPBS News, San Diego’s PBS and NPR station. Beyond the newsroom, Kris serves as the Vice President for Journalism Programs for the Asian American Journalists Association. Before public media, Kris produced news shows and specials for CBS and NBC in the San Francisco Bay Area. Kris helps train and mentor college student journalists with AAJA Voices and NPR’s Next Generation Radio Fellowship. She mentors high school journalists with PBS NewsHour’s Student Reporting Labs Academy. Kris teaches news producing classes at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

1. What did you want to be “when you grew up?”  I wanted to be an Olympian, competing in figure skating. My skating career started at an Orange County mall. A coach chatted up my dad as I watched people slide, glide and fall on a tiny patch of ice. He told my dad that I could be a champion. My dad signed me up for lessons. I was five years old.

Kris and her son

My hobby became an obsession after I watched Tiffany Chin at the 1984 Winter Olympic Games. Dressed in blue with pink flower accents, she started off her short program with an elegant camel spin combo. Then she dazzled the crowd with a soaring triple toe loop, double loop. “Beautiful!” said ABC Sports skating commentator Peggy Fleming. “The height she got on that was absolutely wonderful.” It was a flawless routine. It took less than three minutes for this 16-year-old Olympian to execute seven mandatory elements and weave them all together into a performance that helped me define grace, beauty and power.

She was the first Asian American I saw on television who was not a waiter or a laundromat owner. I didn’t see anyone compliment her on how well she spoke English or asked her that loaded question: “Where are you from?” From on-air commentators to the viewing audience, everyone accepted Tiffany Chin as a skater representing the United States inside Zetra Olympic Hall in Sarajevo. I want that. I wanted to be accepted for my skill and talent, regardless of what I looked like on the outside: dark brown hair, brown eyes and skin the color of coffee.

As the daughter of immigrants, my parents taught me that if I wanted anything in this life, I needed to put in the time and energy to make it happen. “They will never see you as an American,” my mom told me. “You have to work harder than them in order to be taken seriously.” So I worked. I practiced. I fell and I got back up. I molded my body into a machine made for jumping, spinning and flying on ice. I hated public speaking, but I adored skating in front of family, friends and strangers. I felt beautiful and powerful. When my music played, I felt joy as my blades carried me across the slick surface.

Kris shows her son how news is produced!

2. What makes you the most proud of yourself?  Even though I am always tickled to see my byline in print, online and in credits for news shows, my favorite production will always be my son. I watched him and felt him change my body during pregnancy. When he was born, he changed my life. More than anything, I want to make the world a better place for him and all the kids who will follow us. I also know I can do that through journalism—where we continue to shine a light for those who can’t speak up for themselves and to hold the powerful accountable. I may have stepped away from the daily production of journalism, I found a calling to teach. I want to train, mentor and guide the next generation of journalists. I’m doing that now as an adjunct professor at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State. This fall, I will start my PhD program with the journalism school.

3. What darkness have you overcome? How did you find strength?  My boyfriend was the first person I needed to see when the world turned upside down. I clung to him in bed as we watched a plane slam into one of the Twin Towers. A few years later, I couldn’t breathe when I learned about my little brother’s deployment to Iraq. He held me tight as I gulped for air between bouts of tears and shaking.

He held my hand as I told a police detective about my massage therapist. I described how this therapist took advantage of my body, ripping apart my faith in men and myself. But my guy never lost faith in me. He stayed with me as I viciously lashed out as a victim and cried endless tears as a broken human being. I also had sessions with a therapist who was able to see into my future. She told me that I will survive. She told me this experience and the strength I gain from it will make me a better writer.

As a survivor, I found strength in yoga, exercise, prayer and meditation. My guru who guided me through a San Pedro experience introduced me to a powerful mantra: “I am love. I am worthy.” I repeat it daily. And as for my boyfriend, we tied the knot more than a decade ago. We will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary this August.

4. Where will we find you on a Saturday morning at 10 a.m.?  Three places: (1) Working out at the YMCA, with my kid playing inside the Amazing Kids space. (2) Costumed reading time with my kid at Changing Hands bookstore. (3) Hot Dogs and Jazz concert with my kid at the Nash Jazz Club.

5. What makes you smile the most?  Singing and Dancing to Coco or Moana with my boy.

Bonus: What advice would you give your younger self? May you be happy. May you be safe. May you be healthy. May you be loved. May you be at peace.

Today’s #OneGoodThing is sharing this extraordinary woman and my former colleague at NBC Bay Area, Kris Vera-Phillips, with all of you! We are stronger together, so let’s shine a light on our extraordinary sisters! If you’d like to participate or nominate a woman to participate, please send me a note or leave a comment! What was your #OneGoodThing today? Please share in the comments! Kindness is Everything.

Day 62 of 366. And Day 1,523 in a row (here’s the first 366, & the following 365, & the third year of 365 good things, & the 4th year of good things)!

On this day…

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