The following article summarizes the original event which is listed below the summary.

Stories that illuminate people and give us courage

Tue, March 26 2024, 11am

More than 120 members and guests made reservations to attend UMRA’s March 26 luncheon forum, and despite a nasty spring storm that brought snow, sleet, and icy roads, two-thirds of them braved the elements to attend! Thankfully, so, too, did our guest presenter, Fred de Sam Lazaro, for an encounter that was delightful, sobering, and provocative. 

De Sam Lazaro has had a distinguished career in journalism as a regular feature contributor to the PBS NewsHour and as the founder of The Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas. The journalism project produces content that is used by news organizations as well as in classrooms and online to help students understand local and international issues and, perhaps, to inform their decisions as they embark on their careers.

Watch a video recording of the UMRA Forum with PBS correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro.

De Sam Lazaro described his beat as poverty and human suffering, and said his focus is often on “change-makers” who are tackling big issues in ingenious and practical ways to improve things on the ground in communities. Some of the change-makers featured in his stories, like the late Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health, are famous and operate on the world stage.  Others, like Indian environmentalist and engineer Sonam Wangchuk—who came up with an idea for building “ice stupas” in the Himalayan mountains to alleviate water shortages in the villages below due to climate change—are perhaps first brought to public attention by de Sam Lazaro’s reporting.

His stories are also often about what drives human conflict, and the opening slide of his presentation was a scene from his story in 2018 about the conflict at the Gaza border. The picture looked like it could have been taken yesterday, but it was from years before the current conflagration that is so much in the news and on our minds.

De Sam Lazaro has reported from 70 countries, but also covers stories from our local community that connect with the rest of the world. For example, he reported for the PBS NewsHour on the deaths of George Floyd and Philando Castile and the subsequent convulsions and aftermath here and in other cities around the world.

Connecting his audiences

He also tries to connect his audiences with ongoing top-of-mind concerns. One example is the current heated dialog about immigration. De Sam Lazaro has reported from Wisconsin dairy farms, where 60 percent of the workforce comes from Central America and elsewhere in Latin America, interviewing farmers who acknowledge that they could not sustain their operations without these immigrants. He brought us a story from Elgin, North Dakota, where a small hospital, like many in the U.S., is now reliant on nurses from the Philippines. And from Dickinson, North Dakota, where six of seven nurses in the only remaining long-term care facility there are temporary “travel” nurses, foreign-born and trained. Beyond the persistent nursing shortage, one in four doctors in North Dakota now is foreign-born and educated. This essential work wouldn’t be done without immigrants.

The stories from de Sam Lazaro’s career touch us deeply because they illuminate individual people, and because they give us courage to look into the face of suffering and the conundrums of what people around the world and in our own backyard are facing. We don’t look away because his stories touch our hearts, challenge our assumptions, and give us heart. We thank him for his remarkable work and for spending time together with us.

–Jan Morlock, UMRA Program Committee

Event recording
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Making the foreign—and the local—less foreign

Tue, March 26 2024, 11am
Fred de Sam Lazaro
PBS correspondent and
Founder and Director
The Under-Told Stories Project
University of St. Thomas

Midland Hills Country Club
2001 Fulham Street
Roseville, Minn. 55113


We are delighted to welcome back journalist Fred de Sam Lazaro as our guest speaker for UMRA’s luncheon forum on Tuesday, March 26. De Sam Lazaro is a globe-trotting correspondent who has reported from 70 countries with a remarkable perspective on what is happening around the world. 

As a founder and now executive director of the Under-Told Stories Project at the University of St. Thomas, de Sam Lazaro focuses on the consequences of poverty and the work of change agents who address those consequences. It’s intended to offer a critical reflection on the world’s under-reported news stories, and to use storytelling to enhance students’ understanding of the pressing global issues of our time.

With his home base in St. Paul, de Sam Lazaro connects these interests to our local community as well. Recent examples featured on the PBS NewsHour include a January 29 story about music composed by Polish prisoners at Auschwitz, now performed by the Isles Ensemble at a Lutheran Church in Minneapolis; and on February 8, a story about St. Paul’s new all-woman city council. De Sam Lazaro’s work draws us closer to the people he meets and the challenges they confront, making us all less foreign to each other. 

In addition to being a correspondent for the PBS NewsHour and executive director of the Under-Told Stories Project, de Sam Lazaro is a regular contributor and substitute anchor for the PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. He also has directed films from India and the Democratic Republic of Congo for the acclaimed documentary series Wide Angle, produced for broadcast on PBS and distribution worldwide.

De Sam Lazaro has received three honorary doctorates, numerous journalism awards, and media fellowships from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Michigan. He serves on the board of Sahan Journal, a St. Paul-based non-profit news service, and has served on boards of the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, his alma mater, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota. He was born in Bangalore, India, and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1975. 

A great deal has happened in the five years since Fred de Sam Lazaro was our guest speaker for the first time, in January 2019.  Please join us to welcome him back for UMRA’s luncheon forum on Tuesday, March 26.

To make your reservation and prepay for the luncheon forum at Midland Hills Country Club in Roseville, go to umra.umn.edu > Member Portal > Forum Reservations. 

—Jan Morlock, UMRA Program Committee 

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