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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

jess mathewsby Alessandra Wollner 

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling,” Susan B. Anthony told New York Times reporter Nellie Bly. “I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

That was back in 1896, when feminists called bicycles “freedom machines.” At the time, for women at least, bikes were kind of a big deal. They offered mobility and ushered in an era of vastly less restrictive ladies’ attire. Bloomers, y’all.

But somehow, as the years revolved, bike culture became the provenance of dudes. Dudes wearing caps with tiny bills, walking bowlegged on ripped calves. The era of Susan B.’s freedom machine may be over, but a bike-powered women’s revolution is alive and well in the work of Jess Mathews, who gave a 2013 TEDxColumbus talk about the integral role women play in creating bike-friendly cities.

On the day that I met Jess Mathews, she rolled up on Suzette—that’s her Fuji hybrid—with a copy of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please in a wicker basket attached to the handlebars, also tricked out with a hot pink little bell. Suzette’s pedals are electric raspberry blue, her saddle striped down the middle with leopard print fleece. Laminated cards with pictures of bikes twine through the spokes of her back wheel, and stickers for various causes wrap her peach sherbet frame. It’s a bike lovingly customized by a woman as free and untrammeled as they come. No doubt, Jess Mathews is the kind of bicycling woman Susan B. would rejoice to see.

Wheels & Heels 1

Jess has always been vocal about women and biking, lobbying the local government for infrastructure that makes women and children feel safe to ride. And though she is fiercely dedicated to this work, it’s just a spoke in her wheel. One speed out of ten. A single stop on a long and comprehensive tour to transform Columbus into a leading center not just in bike friendliness, but in the creative and civic-minded use of city streets.

Because Jess’ work ranges all over the city, I asked her to tour me through the sites of her greatest successes, and take us through Columbus’ best examples of bike-friendliness and worst instances of bike-indifference. On bikes. Duh.

A number of places we pedaled by were sites of the Columbus Parklet Project and Open Streets Columbus, both initiatives under Transit Columbus, which “champions an integrated public transportation system for the people of Central Ohio to improve the safety, health, environment and economic vitality of the entire Columbus region.” The organization launched both Open Streets and Columbus Parklets in 2015. “I’d been talking and dreaming about these projects for four years,” Jess explained as we cruised down Grant Street through a golden October afternoon. “Then finally, this year, it all just came together in a beautiful way.”

Parklet in Franklinton

Jess, the project lead, and a very dedicated team of volunteers launched the Columbus Parklet Project outside Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace on 4th and Cherry last summer for a 30-day trial. Parklets—sidewalk extensions providing more space plus amenities—help people understand that streets are more than byways from Point A to Point B. Streets are gathering places, Jess says, and using them as such makes for healthier, more vibrant cityscapes.

“That first parklet was a huge success,” Jess tells me as we straddle our bikes curbside in front of Dirty Frank’s, where the parklet once stood. On its heels, The Columbus Parklet Project installed a second, permanent parklet in Franklinton during this summer’s Urban Scrawl festival. A third parklet, hopefully permanent, will go in front of Café Brioso on Gay Street in Spring 2016. Jess explains all this as rush hour traffic whips by to our left and my stomach churns. But Jess believes that streets should feel safe for riders and pedestrians alike. We stay put.

This is one of the most fascinating aspects of Jess’ activism: it’s doggedly honor-bound, her convictions stronger than Everclear. Jess Mathews rides in whatever clothing to prove women don’t need special “gear” to get on a bike. She takes whichever street to prove there’s no need to feel cowed by the presence of cars. Interestingly, Jess rarely wears a helmet, so strong is her belief that city streets should be safe enough to ride without them. “All ages, all wages, all stages,” Jess says, a mantra for who should feel comfortable on a bike, and who streetscapes should be designed to serve.

Open Streets Yoga
Which brings me to the other big project with Jess at the helm: Open Streets Columbus. Open Streets is a national movement that shuts down stretches of city street for a day. People—on bikes, blades, and two feet—have the run of the asphalt, at least for awhile. “It can transform cities,” Jess says, “it’s an incredible petri dish that can get people reengaged with their cities, using streets the way they should be used.”

The first Open Streets Columbus happened Sept 13th on Rich Street downtown. The second followed the next weekend on a section of 4th between Main and Broad. Among other carless wonders, the Open Street events featured PoYo (pop-up yoga), a human-sized Scrabble game, and some impressive bike dancing. Jess and her team have a third Open Streets in the works for the same 4th Street location in 2016, with a possibility of adding a second event if funding comes through.

IMG_7439I wasn’t in town to see either Open Streets, but I did make it to this October’s 2 Wheels & Heels ladies bike night. Jess plans and leads these rides the last Wednesday of every month to get women hooked on freedom machines.

Because some serious rain had eased up just hours before this month’s ride, this 2 Wheels & Heels was intimate, only six women. But that was OK. The ride fell on the cusp of Halloween, and we were a band of witchy, bike-straddling, suffragette superheroes Two women showed up in onesies (ok, one was me, in leopard print). In solidarity with the ride’s namesake, the other onesie woman, an astronaut in an orange jumpsuit with pink hair, rocked a pair of black heels.

For this ride, Jess planned a six-miler dedicated to testing some newly installed infrastructure—a series of two-stage left turns along Spring Street, and the new bike lane on the notoriously busy/scary/bike-unfriendly 4th St corridor, a route Jess irritably called “a f-ing joke.”

Jess is passionate, but she burns a quiet fire. “How did that feel?” she asked the group after we’d ridden each new piece of infrastructure. The women agreed: we were glad to have a chance to ride these new facilities with a guide. That way, we actually understood how to use what was meant for us, especially those somewhat abstruse but very helpful two-stage lefts. As we spoke, Jess listened quietly, intently.

Larry Smith, famous six-word memoirist and TEDxColumbus alum, loves Jess’ fervor. “Jess is great at what she does because she’s 100% convinced her ideas are gonna work. Her total faith is what makes her stuff happen.”

Although 2 Wheels, the parklets, and Open Streets are up and spinning, they still require buckets of sweat equity—a whole bunch of hustling, organizing, coordinating, volunteering, recruiting, speaking out, showing up, and riding, riding, riding.

As Jess told me outside Dirty Frank’s, “I know people will get behind this once they see all it implemented later on down the road.”

Or, more aptly, the street.

Alessandra Wollner is a third year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at OSU.

 

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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

An end to paralysisby Rashmi Nemade

Scientific discovery goes in spurts. There is a period of time when progress is slow and incremental, and then, in a sudden burst, an innovation or revelation changes everything. Which then sets the stage for the next cycle of slow and incremental progress.

The slow and incremental is critical for progress in general. For example, many were working on the invention of artificial light, making progress bit-by-bit, day-by-day, when all of the sudden, Thomas Edison’s light bulb changed humanity forever. We’ve since been making more incremental progress in artificial light, but nothing yet as transformative as the light bulb.

And so we plug along, recognizing that there are all kinds of problems in the world, but not always able to solve them to the point of having a massive impact on humanity. However, there is a sudden burst of discovery happening right now. It’s called Neurobridge Technology, and it’s the ‘light bulb’ of neuroprosthetics.

A fusing of neuroscience and biomedical engineering, the field of neuroprosthetics interfaces the brain and a computer rather than a prosthetic and a limb. To explain: a standard prosthetic connects onto, say, an arm to give function to a hand. In neuroprosthetics, the brain is connected to a computer, which then is used to give function to, say, a wheelchair.

But Neurobridge technology does not just give function to a wheelchair, it gives function to a person’s own body. It empowers paralyzed patients to regain conscious control of their fingers, hands, wrists and arms. Those of us attending TEDxColumbus witnessed this process as we watched 23-year-old Ian Burkhart, paralyzed as a teenager, grasp a mug with his own hand and take a sip.

 

Bouton and Burkhart
Maybe like you, I was amazed to see a quadriplegic man pick up a mug, not with a prosthetic or a machine, but with his own hand controlled by his own thoughts. I needed to know more, so I reached out to Chad Bouton. He is the inventor of Neurobridge. He works at the Battelle Memorial Institute and is the speaker who shared his innovation at TEDxColumbus. He is also just about as modest as they come. As he talks about his revolutionary Neurobridge work, in the same breath, he cites the work of others before him, appreciates the privilege of working with experts, and is grateful for the tremendous resources at Battelle.

He is also grateful, appreciative and privileged to work with Ian Burkhart, who volunteered to help develop this technology and willingly endured hours of testing, surgery, and even more testing. Burkhart is now the first person ever to move a paralyzed limb with his own thoughts. “Ian is an incredibly hard-working, committed and persistent young man. He has a positive outlook and is excited to be a part of developing a technology that can help others,” says Bouton.

So how does this technology work? Neurobridge bypasses damaged areas of the spinal cord so the brain can communicate directly with muscles. The system combines a computer chip implanted in the brain, a brain-computer interface, and a sleeve that transmits electrical signals to the patient’s forearm and hand. You’ve heard of a heart bypass, well this is a neural “bypass,” taking signals from the brain, rerouting them around the damaged spinal cord and sending them directly to the muscles.

That’s the basic idea. But to actually make this happen, it takes an extraordinary and collaborative effort. Bouton had good reason to believe that his inventive idea would work, but proving that this technology could actually help people was essential. Bouton and a team within Battelle, along with doctors at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, worked on decoding thoughts of movement, the implantation of a microchip by neurosurgery, the electronic sleeve, and the rehabilitation it would take to make this system workable. At the same time, Burkhart began using electrical stimulation to activate and build-up his atrophied forearm muscles, getting them ready to move again—at his command.

Burkhart also underwent tests with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). Shown images of hand motions, he was asked to think about each motion. His thoughts were, in a sense, ‘read’ by the fMRI and translated into computer code. This is the code that would allow an implanted computer to read his thoughts and tell the sleeve on his arm what to do.

During a delicate three-hour surgery, neurosurgeons placed a pea-sized Neurobridge computer chip in Burkhart’s motor cortex. A port was created on his skull, so that a cable could be connected to interface with a computer. The Neurobridge chip reads his electrical brain signals, then sends them to the computer that recodes them and sends them to the sleeve he wears on his arm. The sleeve, with 200 electrodes that stimulate various muscle nerves and fibers, then signals his hand to move. All of this happens in less than a 10th of a second.

“It still takes Ian a remarkable amount of concentration to move, but he’s getting better at it every day,” says Bouton. In addition, when we move, we also have feedback from our moving body parts. But for Burkhart, the communication is one-way. His hand cannot tell his brain that the glass is grasped or say anything about its temperature. Burkhart must use his eyes to confirm that his arm is doing what he has told his arm to do.

Bouton envisions a future where mobile devices will allow patients to be connected to a much smaller computer, so that they will be more mobile. For now, Ian is helping to fine tune the Neurobridge system. He works with the sleeve, challenging his muscles and the machinery. Together, he and the team figure out if the system needs more electrodes and where in order to get better movement. The Neurobridge team is now looking forward to helping four more patients in this way. A clinical trial is underway. The expectation is that this technology can help people who suffer from any number of neurodegenerative diseases that affect nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, whether paralysis, stroke injuries, or Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

Other technology has used computers or robotics to move muscles. Neurobridge technology uses a computer as a conveyer of information, but it is the mind that is controlling and instigating the muscle movement. This is groundbreaking. It is game changing. It has never been done before and should be a springboard in the field of neuroprosthetics, launching the next set of advances.

Rashmi Nemade is principal at BioMedText, Inc.

how neurobridge works

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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

Frederick Nadbaramiyeby Kendra Hovey

I read Frederick Ndabaramiye’s new memoir so that I could write about it for Follow This. I didn’t have to think about whether I wanted to read it. But you will. And because Frederick is Rwandan, and was just 11 years old when genocide swept through his country, you might wonder if this book will be too hard to read, or you might decide, no matter, it is still a book that you ought to read.

Frederick and Hanna

But while the reality of humanity’s capacity for cruelty is extremely hard, this book is not, and while bearing witness to the suffering of others is noble, don’t let it cloud your understanding of what this book is really about. It’s right there on the cover: Frederick. As Jack Hanna tells us in the foreword, “Today, you become one of the privileged. Today, you meet Frederick.”

Frederick: A Story of Boundless Hope,  written with Nashville author Amy Parker, was published this fall. In 2012, Frederick was a speaker at TEDxColumbus. In an onstage conversation with Nancy Kramer, he shared his story, including what he experienced at age 15, while traveling by bus in northeastern Rwanda. The 100-day genocide that left one million dead  had officially ended, but the Interahamwe genocidaires that had managed to escape capture, were again leading attacks from hideaways within the mountains of neighboring Congo. It was this group that intercepted Frederick’s bus and singling out Frederick, ordered him to kill everyone. He refused: “My God won’t let me do that.”

The Interahamwe massacred his bus companions and then severed Frederick’s arms below the elbow. While his book confronts the full force of this trauma—and shares it with equanimity and respect for the reader’s emotions—this memoir is not so much about what happened to Frederick; it’s about what Frederick makes happen.

The story opens with Frederick in Columbus, Ohio and absolutely reeling from so many firsts—his first experience with cities, planes, trains, thousands of white faces, the taste of ice cream and, ironically, gorillas. Frederick had never seen the mountain gorillas on the other side of his country—something “it seemed only wealthy Rwandans and international tourists were privy to”—yet gorillas are why he is here. It was through the Columbus Zoo’s conservation efforts in Rwanda that Frederick came to meet and eventually befriend Jack Hanna, Charlene Jendry and others, and from this, came the flight to Columbus and the appointment at Hanger Prosthetics where he was to be fit with mechanical fingers.

hanger prosthetics

Frederick’s story then takes us to Rwanda, to his village and family, the beginning of the genocide and to the fateful bus trip, and his unlikely escape. The blood streaming from what it left of his arms, he was forced to his feet and to walk. Frederick heard the order “Finish him off,” yet he kept walking “down the hill and into the trees and no one followed.” But escape did not mean survival, to survive would take something else: good fortune. There were the two sisters who first saved him and the truck full of men who found a surgeon; even the electrical cords the Interahamwe used to bind him saved his life. They acted as a tourniquet so that, as Frederick writes, “what those men had meant to harm me, God had used for good.”

I Am AbleThe gratitude expressed in these words from Frederick was hard won. Initially, there was only despair, an attempt to end his life and despair that, even at this, he was a failure. He was a burden, worth nothing, he thought, in a family and a country that demanded self-reliance. From the words in psalms and hymns he began to understand he was not alone in his suffering, and had the seed of a thought that would only grow: So sure of his uselessness, yet maybe there is another perspective he had not considered.

From this epiphany and all that he has made happen since—from a painting to a new educational center for people with disabilities to a movement “I Am Able”—there is a rich story, including surprising interactions with his perpetrator, with his savior and with his mother, that stun, yet reveal the quality of equanimity so impressive in him. There are unexpected details, like that, because rebels would cut the arms off of their own soldiers, Frederick could be mistakenly identified as the very people that did this to him, or that the Center he built and that now educates 500 from preschoolers to master’s students began with a volleyball game. Frederick was the coach.

Ubumwe Community Center

Wherever Frederick shares his story, people often respond with a kind of awed incomprehension. How has he not only healed from this, but thrived? And how did he find the magnanimity to forgive? His book answers these questions, but also asks us to see that his trauma is not so unique, nor is it so worse than others:

“When you, get down to it, I think we all have our handicaps. People everywhere struggle with forgiveness, and everyone is hungry for hope . . . By wearing my handicap on the outside, I’ve learned to speak about the trauma and the struggles that go along with it. People are more likely to show compassion to me. But what about those with hidden handicaps? Disability of the spirit is so much more debilitating than a physical disability. Yet we tend to be less sensitive to those hidden handicaps.”

“We are all broken,” he says. From everything he has experienced, the truth of this statement is clear to him. But, says Frederick, “the good thing is this: although we are all broken, we all have the same offer to be made whole again.”

Frederick at TEDxCbus

 

Kendra Hovey is editor at TEDxColumbus: Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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As you prepare for Friday’s TEDxColumbus: STEAM at the Capitol Theater, 77 South High Street, here are some specifics you will need to make it a spectacular day.

11:30 am – Registration Opens (pre-registration encouraged – see below)

Noon – Lunch

12:45 pm – Doors Open to Capitol Theater

1:00 pm – Program Begins

1:00 pm – 5:30 pm Three sessions of speakers and two breaks

5:30 pm – Program Ends, Happy Hour!

Our hashtag is #tedxcbus.

Registration

We are encouraging everyone who has purchased a ticket to pre-register by filling out this form with your name and email. Because CAPA/Ticketmaster could only capture the “purchaser” names – we don’t have everyone’s participants names. If you don’t pre-register, it’s okay, we can take care of you when you arrive. (If you have purchased for a group, you may send us a list to tedxcolumbus@gmail.com). DEADLINE for pre-registration is Wednesday at 6pm.

If you don’t pre-register, not to worry, we can register you at the door (just please be patient).

Where to park. 

Please consider using COTA, Car2Go or CoGo first!

If you are driving, we encourage parking at Columbus Commons. Everything within immediate proximity to the Riffe Center will be full.

How to arrive.

1. Curious and open. The speakers are coming prepared to provoke, it is your role to let them!

2. Willing to meet a stranger – or two. And have some amazing conversations.

3. By noon for lunch.  (Options for all dietary types and preferences – Vegan, GF, Carnivore). If you don’t want to have lunch, make sure to arrive by 12:45pm when the doors open for seating. All seats are general admission. We will begin very promptly at 1pm.

4. In comfortable clothes (seriously, jeans are encouraged).

5. With a creative name tag!  Of course we’ll have name tags for everyone – but judges will be roaming the breaks looking for creative expressions that you made with your own hands – and awarding drink tickets for ones they love.  (Check out the 2011 archive for inspiration). It is an awesome way to spark conversation, trust us.

If you want some reading preparation.

Take a look at the speakers’ profiles. It will help you understand their license to share their ideas. If you have seen a TED / TEDx talk, you know there isn’t any reviewing of biographies inside a talk – and we don’t do it in their live introductions either.

If you want to read more about the TEDx experience, here are some TEDxColumbus Follow This blog posts about who you might meet, why people came last year (with event reflections) and if this is your first time, some history on the origin of the event.

If you know someone that wanted to attend but can’t since we are sold out.

Please encourage them to attend the free Livestream viewing event at McConnell Arts Center in Worthington. No registration is necessary.

What you can do after TEDxColumbus. 

On Saturday, November 8th from 9am – noon, tune into TEDxYouth@Columbus. This partner event will be live streamed from COSI featuring ideas worth spreading from local High School speakers.

We will send you a link to a very important evaluation. Please take the 5 minutes to fill it out and be totally honest.  Many of the changes we made to this year’s event came from those evals last year.

The talks should be posted by Thanksgiving (no promises, but that’s our goal). We encourage you to share those ideas that provoked you.

All of the photos from the day will be posted to our Flickr account, which also is an archive of the past five year’s events.

If you want to be involved in any future TEDxColumbus or TEDxColumbusWomen planning, please email us tedxcolumbus@gmail.com.

And we love to partner with other TEDx programs at schools, universities, corporations and of course, prisons! The more good ideas we can spread, the better.

See you Friday! As always, let us know if you have questions – tedxcolumbus@gmail.com.

TEDxColumbus Organizing Team

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Events, Follow This, Speakers, TEDxYouth@Columbus

Austin Channell at TEDxCbus

by Kendra Hovey

If you didn’t see it, you might have heard about it: First standing O of the day . . . 80,290 views online . . . featured on WOSU TV’s TEDxColumbus special . . . The talk, Austin Channell’s A Culture of Obsession: Why taking choir kept me from being valedictorian, was even retweeted by preeminent chorale composer Eric Whitacre—making Channell, for one hot moment, a hero among Central Ohio choir directors.

It all made for an interesting senior year of high school for Austin Channell, who never expected to be juggling his class schedule with an appearance on All Sides with Ann Fisher or piggybacking a college visit onto a speaking engagement in Virginia.

Now a high school graduate, Channell finished third in his class, but was not a valedictorian. As he says, “that would have been awkward.” In the fall, he’ll attend Vanderbilt University, where he plans to study civil engineering.

Austin Channell on all sides with Ann FisherHis TEDx talk, to quickly refresh, grew out of a real life quandary: He could take choir in high school, get an A and, as a result, lower his GPA. Or he could sign up for study hall and end up with a higher GPA. As absurd as this sounds, it’s also built into the educational grading system. As Channell deftly points out, it is possible for a student to “succeed in more areas and be penalized for it.”

It’s not that he had some great ambition to be a valedictorian, as he says, “It was the principle of the thing.” And the problem is bigger than just some nonsensical grade point system. At issue, is the larger and more complicated matter of how we choose to define and measure success, and the resulting effects on college-entrance, and the self-esteem, health and well-being of our youth.

For students, it can lead to some silly scheduling maneuvers—going to art class while officially signed up for study hall. But if college is going to be in the picture, GPA is vital, and even as current business-speak extols the virtues of failure while the social sciences send out alerts about the dangers of perfectionism, students know exactly the fine line they have to walk.

If an A in a non-AP class can reduce GPA or just one B can plummet a class rank from one to one hundred and something, an example Channell shares, why take a risk? Or follow an interest? Maybe the student truly is that much less smart or less studious than before the B, either way, at many colleges, her application’s gone from the top of the pile to the slush pile. Grading—how it varies between districts, schools and teachers and what exactly it measures—is not just a complicated puzzle for administrators. Channell is telling us it’s having real effects, adverse effects, on real lives.

Yet not every high schooler with something important to say, says it on the TEDx stage. In fact, in the history of TEDxColumbus there’ve been exactly two: Austin Channell and Meagan Jones. Channell’s journey began courtesy of his public school, where a posted flyer and a nudge from a teacher led to an internship with TEDxYouth. Working with Andy Aichele for two years, he helped plan, coach and stage manage the event. “We spent a lot of time at a lot of Paneras,” he says. As can happen when working with TED, the question pops up: “What would be your talk?” When Achiele would pose it, Channell, took it as idle musing, at least until the day he began “ranting” about his situation. As he recalls, “Andy said, ‘This is your talk,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah…it is.’ ”

Austin Channell interviewed by CBS News Pittsburg

Once he left the TEDxColumbus stage, it didn’t take long for the tweeting and sharing to start, as well as the dialogue and invitations to speak. He’s been interviewed on various news programs, shared versions of the talk at a school board meeting, at the Ohio Department of Education (twice) and, by invitation of a PTA, as far away as Falls Church, Virginia. The small city, essentially a suburb of DC, is in the wealthiest county in the U.S. and home to supposedly the best high school in the country (though public, admission is selective). In Falls Church, says Channell, “even the middle school librarian has an ivy league degree.” It was there, during the Q&A, that Channell was asked maybe the most heart-breaking question. It came from an 8th grader. To paraphrase, she asked, “What if I don’t feel so driven to succeed, but my parents want it and I don’t want to make them unhappy?”

This child’s question helps explain the strong response to Channell’s talk. Education is not just about student and teacher, but administrators, communities, society, says Channell, and the core relationship between parent and child. “We know education is a hot button issue,” he says, “some relate to what they see as an unfair system, some question how we assess learning, some defend the system, but for parents in particular, the effects on their children are really concerning—I know how hard it was on my own parents to witness the physical toll of my class schedule and academic stress.”

Another reason for the overwhelming response may just be that Austin Channell did a really good job. And were I to add “for his age” it’s not to put a qualifier on his abilities, but to acknowledge age is a factor. Though he doesn’t attempt to offer a solution, and while people are listening and talking no changes have yet been made (though his school board just announced it will be reviewing the valedictorian system), still in Channell’s TEDx talk there is hope. Because despite everything we have left the next generation to grapple with, if they still come out smart, articulate, principled and mature, there’s definitely hope.

Whether Channell agrees with this or not, he can’t deny that people are impressed with his public speaking abilities, because the reality is he gets asked about it all the time. He actually loves this question. He knows exactly where he learned stage presence and how to engage an audience, and he’s happy to share: “It’s theater,” he says, “It’s what the arts can do for you.”

Another question catches him more off-guard. The details vary each time, but it goes something like this: “Would you mind if we drove three hours from Pittsburg to interview you?” Or, “We can pay to fly you and your mom to Virginia, put you up in a hotel, give you a rental car, pay for your food and a travel stipend…would that be okay?” Recounting these today, he still sounds bemused: “It’s one of those questions people would ask, but I’m still not sure . . . who says no to this?”

If this whole experience has been a bit disorienting for Channell, it’s also been humbling and motivating. Amazed by how far and wide the talk has spread, he also wonders if maybe he should have put more into it—more than writing it during an 11th period study hall, he confesses. This concern comes from the perfectionist in him, but also from a real sense of responsibility.

He has no obligation but to go off and be a college student and pursue his interest in civil engineering. But that’s not how he’s feeling. “I don’t know what form it will take or what point in my life it will happen,” he says, but the issue is not behind him. By sheer coincidence, Vanderbilt is home to Peabody College, the best graduate school of education in the nation. He’s already made contact, though just out of curiosity. He does say that, in his mind, from civil engineering to education is not a huge leap. “Civil engineering is about creating and maintaining systems. Though more infrastructure related, it’s borderline policy,” he says. Plus, he’s never been one for purely technical pursuits, being more macro- than micro-focused.

The system of education is one of many things he’s looking forward to potentially exploring in college. But for the moment, he’s got his graveyard shift at a truck parts warehouse. Spending his summer laboring alongside mostly fulltime union workers, ”I put parts in boxes,” he says, “I close the box and put a shipping label on it.” He’s in it for the money—“I know I’ll be poor in college, but my goal is to be less poor in college”—but as a side benefit, he’s listened to a lot of audio books.

One night that audiobook was The Ghost Map about a cholera epidemic in 1854. “If you want to get strange looks from people, just listen to a description of someone suffering from cholera,” he says. When the guys around him asked what he was listening to, it blossomed into a group discussion about medical issues and the scientific process. “Turn it up,” someone suggested, and at 10:00 on a summer night instead of a muffled din of rap, metal and various podcasts, blaring inside this truck parts warehouse was a story about disease and sanitation in mid-19th century London, England. Yet another unexpected and interesting experience in what has been an unexpected and interesting year for Austin Channell.

 

Kendra Hovey is editor at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus, TEDxYouth@Columbus

Heroes2u

by Kendra Hovey

A dollar may not get you a lot, but five of them will get you into a group video chat with America’s favorite zookeeper Jack Hanna, and the chance to be one of eight to speak with Hanna face-to-face. It will also make you an instant philanthropist, as four of your dollars will go straight to Hanna’s charity of choice—The Wilds.

The chat (April 9th: get your tickets soon) is one of many “memorable conversations” for “meaningful causes” from Heroes2U, a new social enterprise that connects inspirational people with their followers to raise money for charity. Hanna is the latest hero. TEDxColumbus speaker Decker Moss was the first. Future heroes include country music star Phil Vassar, NFLers Kurt Coleman and John Hughes, as well as two wildlife conservationists (who with Hanna form a kind of Earth Day trilogy).

The project is the brainchild of two Columbus twenty-somethings, John Weiler and Jeremy Meizlish, who developed the idea while still undergrads. After a seed investment last June from the Tony R. Wells Foundation, Heroes2U hosted its first beta chat in October, one day after TEDxColumbus (along with Moss, speaker Scott Gaudi was also an early hero). The website launched mid-February. It’s where you’ll find videos of past chats and all the need-to-knows regarding webcams, tickets, etc.

Millennials are the target audience for Heroes2U. Not your typical gala-goers, it’s a group that charitable outreach tends to reach right over. Quoting research, John Weiler says that millennials give at a price point of 1 to 100 dollars, and they give on-line. “Our generation is a largely untapped force for philanthropy,” he says.

As a kind of gateway to giving, Heroes2U breaks down this barrier between young people and philanthropy. It also breaks through the assumption that Gen-Yers are more into instant gratification than generosity. Not surprisingly, barrier-breaking is a favorite pastime of John and Jeremy. It’s the subject of their own 2012 TEDxYouth@Columbus Talk, where the first barrier to go is the label Generation Y. They rename it Generation Y Not, turning implied judgments of “lazy, entitled, un-experienced and uneducated” into possibility—because, as they see it, techno-savvy Generation Y Not has a huge possibility advantage.

Technology has already reduced the barrier between celebrities and us regular folks, but it’s one thing to “follow,” another to engage, and John and Jeremy want more from this new accessibility; they want meaningful interaction, and to break through yet another barrier: Status. As they say, “we bring the heroes to you, and bring out the hero in all that participate.”

And how exactly do they get these heroes? So far, by making and utilizing every single connection they can. But once they have an in, Heroes2U is an easy sell: 30 minutes, the hero chooses where, when and which charity. Plus, most speakers say the best part of any event is the Q&A. Getting the word out, both to heroes and participants, is still their biggest job right now. For both Jeremy and John it’s full-time and unpaid. They have one paid employee—a web developer—but as owners they made a decision that they‘ll get paid when they have “completed their mission” and not before.

In the meantime, “it’s a really cool journey,” says John. “Until I saw our local charities, up-close” he says, “I didn’t fully grasp the giving community we have here—it’s very inspirational.” Also, while he and Jeremy hoped that the distance of a video chat would not lessen the quality of interactions, they weren’t entirely sure. But after one “chatter” teared-up and the hero offered a virtual hug, they both knew that facilitating meaningful connections was not going to be a problem.

They have some details to work out, such as achieving their goal of fundraising (helped along by big famous names) while also still being able to share the powerful stories of lesser-known heroes. Post-launch, their commitment remains strong. In fact, they recently had an experience that all but confirmed their mission.

A few months back, they shelled out $150 each, put on their best suits, and went to a black-tie fundraiser. Their thinking was: since the inaccessibility of traditional charity events, such as galas, is part of their pitch, they ought to at least attend one. The honored guest that night was basketball star Shaquille O’Neal. On stage, Shaq told a room-silencing story about how, as a kid, everyone expected him to be a bully, so he was. But one day his bullying caused a boy to seizure, and right then he made a very emotional decision that he didn’t want to be a bully, and he wasn’t going to be. The MC that night, newscaster Jerry Revish, commented that more young people needed to hear this story … and in the audience, two people, John and Jeremy—the youngest in the room that night by far—couldn’t agree more.

 

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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Events, Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus, TEDxColumbusWomen, TEDxWomen

by Kendra Hovey

Sold out in one day. Attendance up five-fold. All the sudden, TEDxColumbusWomen is a rock star. In its fourth year, the live-stream of the annual TEDWomen conference added something new: five talks from local speakers—which might explain the sudden surge in interest, except it was announced after the last ticket sold. 

This post shares some event highlights and commentary, but for those eager to skip ahead…

For local TEDxColumbusWomen speakers:
Jump to Session II

For TEDWomen speakers:
Jump to Session I

Or, to begin with general info and impressions, simply read on.

TEDxColumbusWomen was held on December 5th at the Columbus Foundation. TEDWomen 2013: Invented Here streamed from San Francisco—the title, in part, an acknowledgement of the host city. The first set of TEDWomen talks (Session I:  To Be Is To Do) took the most literal approach to the Invented Here theme, rolling out one innovative product after another: an energy-generating soccer ball, an affordable artificial knee, a preemie incubator for home use, a smarter spacesuit, and more.

Ideally, content should stand on its own, and when that content is literally bouncing (soccer ball) or walking (spacesuit) on the stage in front of you, this ideal seems almost possible. But, as both neuroscience and social science tell us, to veil identity (gender or otherwise) is not so easy, nor is it always helpful. Plus, to gloss over the subject would make TEDWomen less interesting. The event had me constantly thinking about gender. It’s kind of the point of it, even as gender was rarely the actual topic of a talk.

Beyond sharing hidden histories and the great breadth and diversity of women’s work, accomplishments and insights, the event brings gender into focus in other ways. Krista Donaldson designs products for people living on less than $4 a day. Jessica Matthews delights in other people’s hacks to her products. User-focus is in no way gender-specific, yet there was something different in how speakers, repeatedly, put the user at center stage. And when speaker Jane Chen called her life-saving scientific invention “technology powered by love,” I wondered would she say it exactly like that at a technology conference or at Big TED? And if she did, would it come out just as easily and just as heartfelt? Maybe, but that I had the question at all is what I mean when I say gender was on my mind.

Also, not every event takes note of its male audience members. This one did. And the irritating buzz that accompanied the first few talks couldn’t help but make me aware of gender. TEDWomen is one of TED’s three annual conferences, and I’ve never seen serious technical glitches like that at livestreams of TED or TEDGlobal.

And then there are the MCs. They talk a lot, in a way some may find supportive, but that I find cloying. It is less the MCs, though, then my reaction to them that had me acutely aware of gender. I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when two men on a stage represented all men, but the day I can listen to these MCs and be merely annoyed instead of cringing, it will be a sign of a more enlightened world and a more enlightened me.  [For good or bad, the MCs are not in the online videos.]

Here are some of the stand-out talks from Session I: To Be Is To Do:

  • Jessica Matthews, partly for jump roping in heels, mostly for her delight when users change and improve her products, and also for her big points that 1) play is a tool for social impact and 2) invention is less about the product and more about the people it “invents.”
  • Dame Stephanie “Steve” Shirley who fell ill, so instead was spoken about by Google VP Megan Smith, who also shared part of a documentary about this early programmer. For me, this talk was a bargain: I went from utterly ignorant about women in technology to somewhat knowledgeable in just ten minutes. Did you know that the first programmer was a woman? I didn’t. Far more shocking, Megan Smith didn’t either.
  • Maya Penn because she is creative, generous, industrious and only thirteen.
  • Diana Nyad because she is riveting and her presence is commanding. Plus, there’s the deadly box jellyfish and hallucinations of the Taj Majal.

 

 


Following a break for cupcakes and conversation, Session II featured five talks from local speakers, sharing insights on diverse topics. If there is a throughline that connects them all, it is that each spoke from the knowledge that comes from lived experience and that each, on some level, is a story of self-invention (yet another take on the theme Invented Here). Also, ranging from four minutes to fourteen, the talks are short. To watch all five, you can go straight to the playlist. Or, for more of a foothold, without giving much away, here’s a brief word on each:

1. In her talk, Celia Crossley shares her rather circuitous route to her career as a career strategist helping others route or create their own careers. Her big point: by all means, Lean In, if you can, but know that there is another path to job satisfaction, personal fulfillment, and economic viability: Leaning Out.

 

2. Her country, her community, and her comfortable day-to-day life suddenly collapsed. As a Tutsi married to a Hutu, her family collapsed. As a person who was loved and suddenly deemed an outcast, her identity collapsed. After the genocide in her home country, Norah Bagirinka did not feel human and did not think she would ever feel human again. Her humanity fully restored and thriving, she shares her story, her current work with Rwanda Women In Action and her insights into what it takes to create a bridge to a new life.

 

3. Barbara Allen can work a room. That’s one reason to watch this video. Another is to learn about the improv mantra: Yes… And…. Currently in vogue as a work organization tool, the concept may not be new, but Allen’s wholesome and big-hearted delivery is.

 

4. Gabrielle Smith is a teenager entrepreneur. She’ll graduate high school this summer, almost three years after she launched her small business. Her talk shares what can happen when a maker takes her passion seriously.

 

5. JoDee Davis works with people that you, most likely, do everything you can to avoid. It’s okay, says Davis, she once tried to avoid these people, too. But an experience changed her. On one level, her talk is an interesting story about meeting success time and time again and struggling to understand why (with help, she eventually does). On another level, her talk is a powerful story that has a strong potential to shift your understanding.  And I’ll leave it at that.

 

All photos by Tessa Potts, except Diana Nyad by Marla Aufmuth, courtesy of TEDWomen 2013

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

You won’t find the village of Piol on Google Earth. You’ll find it by dirt road. That is, if the weather is dry. If not, you’ll wait in Bor a day, maybe more, until the road is clear. Then, it’s another sixty miles across South Sudan’s Jonglei state, but you will find Piol and, there, you’ll find something oddly familiar: The iconic Block O; a building called Buckeye Clinic; perhaps even a few villagers wearing their scarlet and gray.

If you happen to recognize Piol as the home village of TEDxColumbus speaker Bol Aweng, you already have some idea of just how much he has accomplished since his 2010 talk. Back then a working medical clinic in his South Sudan village was just an idea. Three years and a little more than $200,000 later, the Buckeye Clinic is a functioning healthcare facility with a vaccination program, maternity ward and staff of five.

It’s a huge change: Previous healthcare in Piol amounted to a table under a tree and one man with enough fluency in English to read labels and hand out medicine. And, it’s made a huge difference: According to the latest count (2009), in this part of the world only 1 in 5 children survives past the age of five. But in Piol, the clinic has inoculated over 500 children from potentially fatal but preventable diseases. “Now 5 out of 5 children may live to age 5,” says Aweng, and parents who before did not dare to dream because, as he says, “my child may be taken away,” now have hopes for their children and are even making plans for their future.

While there’s more to do and more money to raise, clearly Bol Aweng has achieved the goal he shared in 2010 to help his family, his village and south Sudan.

Since then, he’s accomplished one or two other things as well:

  • He illustrated a children’s book Maluak’s Cows written by his late cousin Maluak Chol
  • He makes and sells his art
  • He speaks and is a guest artist at various schools, churches and organizations

And all of this he does while holding down a full-time job (second shift) at a Walmart distribution center, and also managing all the demands and joys of life as a new husband and father.

That’s another change since taking the stage at TEDxColumbus: Bol Aweng is married and he has a young daughter named Kiki. He and his wife Ajiel first met as youths in the Kenyan refugee camps. Though it took a year-plus, immigration-induced wait before Ajiel and Kiki could join him in the US, the family of three is together in Columbus. Very soon they will be a family of four—a baby boy is due any day now.

To those familiar with his story, this will all come as particularly welcome news. Bol Aweng, like his friend Jok Dau, is one of the 35,000 Lost Boys of Sudan and one of less than half that number to survive. To hear his story (best told by him, here) is to wish for him not just success, but the most basic personal happiness; to wish, in fact, for every kind of happiness there is—for him, his family and for all the lost boys and girls of Sudan.

Though we don’t hear as much about them, girls were also traumatized, displaced, killed or orphaned during the long civil war. After 20 years of separation, Bol Aweng was able to reunite with his family, but his younger sister Nyankiir remained missing. She had been abducted in 1991 when she was only four years old. “We feared she was not alive, but held out hope,” says Aweng.

In the spring of this year, word spread to Piol of a woman in the far eastern part of Jonglei who was believed to look like Nyankiir. When travel was possible—and the limitations on this cannot be overstated: there are only 80 miles of paved road in the country; zero in Jonglei state; rains can quickly make dirt roads impassable; and bandits can make any road unsafe—Bol Aweng’s father, accompanied by the village chief, went to meet her.

“My father knows my sister has certain marks on her body,” recounts Bol, “ ‘if you have these marks’ he says to her ‘then I know you are my daughter’ and she has them and shows them to him and they both cannot talk to one another anymore and just cried.”

Nyankiir has a husband and two children. She no longer speaks her native Dinka, so the family must communicate through an interpreter. Bol was able to talk to her on the phone, and she is expected to visit Piol at Christmas this year and reunite with the rest of the family. What she remembers and what she experienced is still a story to unfold. But whatever the past or the future, the happiness to have found her, says Bol, is beyond words.

When Nyankiir does come to Piol she will see the Buckeye Clinic, perhaps even her children will benefit from its inoculation program, as the children of her and Bol’s other siblings have. Along with vaccinations, the clinic also offers health education and basic primary health care services. Birth services, and a maternity ward for those experiencing complications, as well as, emergency transportation and medical training are planned for the near future. Funding for these services, as well as construction, utilities and personnel, comes almost entirely from the people of Columbus, Ohio. You may not know this, but there is a blue lion in Piol. Also a golden bear and a wolf with a blue paw print. You’ll find them in and around the clinic and on the catchment system providing clean water to the village, each one marking the fundraising efforts of Columbus-area schools.

From large-scale fundraising projects to each individual donation, the support, says Aweng, has been wonderful: “This was something I needed to do, but lack of funds can dismantle the idea. Then the community of Columbus joined me and now we see the day of a clinic in my village. I really feel proud about the people of Columbus.”

Steve Walker, long-time friend and mentor to both Bol Aweng and Jok Dau and also a major force behind the clinic project, reports that the next crucial steps are to hire a full-time midwife and nurse, and to raise more money for operating costs. The project is about $80,000 shy of the $300,000 goal that will fund the clinic for three years, after which it is expected to be sustained by the primary health care plan developed by the new—as well as the first and the only—government of South Sudan.

On July 9, 2011, after a nearly unanimous vote (98.9%), The Republic of South Sudan officially became an independent state. It is an exciting and much-welcome development, says Aweng, but the world’s youngest country is “still struggling a lot,” he says. While there is no shortage of outside interest in oil, Aweng also welcomes investment in agriculture, business, transportation, healthcare, security and, more than anything, education.

Building the clinic at the same time the country is building itself brings with it a unique set of challenges. Imagine that between interviewing and hiring, the country enacts a social security plan. Suddenly there are more rules, regulations and costs to figure out. But, quite unexpectedly, the project now has more help on the ground.

Last April, Steve Walker travelled to Piol with Jok Dau, who, as a lost boy also from Piol, has, in broad strokes, a story similar to Bol Aweng’s. Dau, in fact, was scheduled to speak with Aweng at TEDxColumbus, but was unable to get the day off work. In April, when he and Walker flew to Africa, Dau was in a much better job at the US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) and, just one year earlier, had travelled to South Sudan to marry Abol, his fiancé. This time, after two weeks working with the community in Piol and meeting with various government officials, Walker flew home, while Dau was to stay on three more weeks to help expedite his wife’s visa application and to visit with his new in-laws.

Three weeks passed, but Dau did not return. He made the mistake of skipping his pills and contracted malaria. As he began to recover, his wife who had been caring for him contracted not only malaria, but typhoid fever as well. Dau did not feel he could leave. He resigned from the USCIS. At the time, Walker was concerned for Dau’s future, but “Jok reassured me,” Walker recounts, “he told me ‘I will just start over’ and, well, I thought, that is one thing he certainly does know how to do.”

Recovery took months, but today both are healthy. Dau recently took a job training government staff in taxation and capacity building, and he continues to assist with the Buckeye Clinic. Turns out that having him “on the ground” has been an invaluable resource, says Walker.

Bol Aweng fully expects Dau will find a way to return with his wife to the US. Looking at Dau’s life now, as well as his own, I asked Bol Aweng what it feels like today, as a man, artist, employee, husband, father, philanthropist, to hear himself called a Lost Boy of Sudan. To answer, he began by talking about those 20 years: “Totally crazy,” he says, “no sense to them…and how I was able to cope…I can only say God is great. The Lost Boys of Sudan is about the history, but those 20 years are a big part of my life, and though, yes, I am a man, I have a happy life…the name ‘The Lost Boys of Sudan’… it is a reality.”

 

UPDATE: 12-8-13: Baby Aweng has arrived! At 8 pounds, baby is in good health. So is mom.

UPDATE 1-3-14: On December 15th, a political dispute escalated into an open conflict that has killed 1,000 people and displaced nearly 200,000. Fighting first erupted in Juba, then on December 25th rebels attacked Bor, the majority-Dinka capitol of Jonglei State that is about 60 miles south of Piol.

Steve Walker was able to talk to Jok Dau by phone on December 27th. He reports that Jok was evacuated to Nairobi by air by the US State Dept. His wife Adol, who had been in Juba for a medical appointment, fled by car to Kampala, Uganda. She made it to the border town Nimule, but for unknown reasons was unable to cross into Uganda. Jok says she is safe there with many other refugees also fleeing Juba. Adol was seeking medical care in Juba because, in news Jok was happy to share, she is pregnant.

When Bor was attacked, civilians either sought safety at the UN headquarters (as Bol Aweng’s sister did) or fled to their home villages. Bol says that over 1,000 fled to Piol, where they are without food or shelter. There is no food in the village and everything in the nearest towns has been looted by the rebels. Both Steve and Bol have been trying to get in touch with the staff at the clinic, but the phone network has been down for weeks.

Today (1-3-14) the US government announced a further reduction in embassy staff. So far one American death has been reported (though not officially confirmed): a former “Lost Boy” who had returned to prepare for his wedding. Also today, official talks between the government and rebel forces (led by former Vice President Machar) begin in Ethiopia. Previously, the African Union has said it would “take further measures if hostilities did not cease” in four days from today. It remains unclear what those measures might be.

UPDATE 3-10-14: After two months with no word from his home village, Bol was finally able to talk to a Buckeye Clinic staff member on February 12. He learned that most families in Piol had fled to the swampy land on the Nile, including Bol’s family. The Buckeye Clinic remained and remains open. The village chief and clinic staff stayed behind.

A cease-fire agreement was signed on January 23, 2014. Though there is still insecurity in the country. There were reports of renewed fighting in late February in Malakal in the Upper Nile region, north of Piol and close to the Sudan border, and a brief clash in Juba on March 5th. The UN, which publishes a weekly update on the crisis, reports that since Dec 15th over 900,000 have been displaced from their homes. 

Photos courtesy of southsudanclinic.org, except independence celebration courtesy os Reuters. 

Kendra Hovey is editor and head writer at Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at kendrahovey.com

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