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Events, Follow This, TEDTalks, TEDxColumbus, TEDxMarionCorrectional

The first ever TEDx in an adult prison held its second TEDx on April 21. To tell the story of this uncommon event we’ll hear, first, from our editor Kendra Hovey, attending TEDxMarionCorrectional for the first time. Second, pending approval of the institution, we’ll also hear from Marion inmates, both those involved and those attending. Kendra’s story begins below, but first, a few facts:

  • TEDxMarionCorrectional is hosted by the institution (medium security) and held within its walls.
  • It was founded by inmates Dan and Wayne, who also curate along with Jo Dee Davis (director of Healing Broken Circles ) and Jordan Edelheit (student and founder of TEDxOhioStateUniversity).
  • Both Dan and Wayne were introduced to TED while incarcerated at Marion Correctional Institution.   
  • The inaugural event, A Life Worth Living? (9.16.12), was highlighted at TED 2013 and on the TED blog.
  • The curators have been asked to consult on other prison events including the upcoming TEDxSanQuentin (9.20.13).
  • The audience at the second event, titled What’s Next?, was split down the middle: 149 inmates (chosen through an application process), 152 outsiders (registered after entering their name on a sign-up form). Outsiders were a mix. Our editor met a college student, a foundation president, a software guy and a yoga instructor. The event is also live streamed throughout the prison so the entire inmate population (approx: 2,500) has the option to watch.
  • Inmates are identified by first name only in accordance with rules guarding victims’ rights.
  • Any questions for inmates about the event can be left in comments. We will forward to Marion Correctional.


TEDxMarionCorrectional: From Outside In

by Kendra Hovey

The TED format stresses substance over status, yet the TED stage is status, making this meritocratic aspiration a bit harder to pull off. Nonetheless, I like the attempt and it’s why I purposely go into each event knowing as little about each speaker as possible. This should explain why I didn’t think about TEDxMarionCorrectional until the night before, and why even then it was only logistics (can I take in a pen? paper?) and cracking-wise (“last night before I go to prison tomorrow, honey”). But it doesn’t.

When I arrive at the prison the next morning I enter through a small building. With chairs in even rows, a wall of lockers, manned desk, security gate and waiting room, it feels vaguely like a rural airport. After locking up my stuff, I sign-in, get my nametag, complimentary gift—a pen—pass through security and then, with a group of about 20, I’m led across the courtyard into a larger building. Passing in and out of locked enclosures, we walk by the visiting room, a barbershop, small holding cells, a photo display of wardens, and eventually down a narrow hallway and through a set of double doors, spilling us into a large, open room humming with conversation.

I’m barely in when, to my right, an inmate welcomes me, followed by another and another. One says hello, another nods, more smile, many extend a hand; a greeting is followed by an exchange of names and we’re talking, and then that conversation blends into another conversation and another and, just like that, I’m engaged in the most seamless mingling between 300 strangers I have ever encountered.

At one point, Wayne interrupts. The co-founder and co-curator (with fellow inmate Dan) is at the mic to tell us what we are already doing: This is the casual meet-and-greet section of the day, he says. It will last one hour, and at 12:30 sharp the first session will begin. Rules. They are at least one thing TED and prison have in common.

Returning to our conversations, an inmate asks if I’d been inside a prison before. The answer is easy: no. Yet, my head fills with images of prisons, ones I’ve toured or explored, and prisons in movies and TV . . . but had I been in a prison with prisoners? No. But that didn’t stop me from believing I had.

Then he asks, “What were you thinking before you came in?” and I am stumped. Nothing. Because my mind is open, I’d like to say, but my mind is closed—lights out, door locked, closed-for-business closed. If I had let myself think, I realize just then, I might not be here.

TEDxMarionCorrectional is on a Sunday, it’s an hour away, it’s all-day, and when you’re in, you’re in; no coming and going, no cell phones (good lord!), and no outside food. With so many easy-outs, even a standard issue fear of the unknown could make me chicken-out, let alone all the assumptions that this man’s question just let loose. If I had let myself think, would I have been fearful? Apprehensive? Suspicious? Cautious? Guarded? Worried? Contemptuous, even? Was I? I don’t know. I don’t think so. But that could be because, now that I’m here, they all sound pretty nutty. What I am feeling is relaxed, comfortable, interested, at-ease—I’m having fun.

At 12:30 (on the dot) Wayne starts things off with the usual reminders—no flash photography; phones off. This, of course, gets a big laugh, as we’ve all just sacrificed our devices for the day. “But,” says Wayne, throwing us a bone, “for those of you who really need your phones . . . at the break . . . we will have counselors available to help you.”

During the first session we hear stories about fatherhood, nerds, intelligence, change, reentry, Abe Lincoln, enemies, and the talent, abilities, and charity that can be found inside these prison walls.

At the break, I meet an inmate named Todd and find out he is the same Todd whose art was just featured in Najmuddeen Salaam’s talk. I also find out that when Naj said Todd had made a grandfather clock “by hand” he meant by hand. No power tools. No tools. To shape the molding Todd used a paper clip.

In the second session, we hear about gardening, laughter, inner demons, and, again, the earlier themes of family, inmate philanthropy, reentry, social acceptance, and the lack thereof.

What I can say about the talks is: watch them. I’d suggest in order, but if you’d prefer to start with some laughs, try FrankHerrington&Co or Ricky. If you’re ready to jump headlong into heart wrenching, it’s a toss-up, but I’ll suggest Diego. For a sound argument, there’s Juan. For inspiration, you could go with the inmate who figured out how to stock neighboring food banks or the one who’s an expert fundraiser for individuals in need. With either one, Ben or Jim, you’ll also get heart wrenching and hilarity—they do say that in prison humor is a matter of survival.

Of the eleven talks, six are by inmates, one by a former inmate, and four by not-ever inmates. The sessions also include two TED videos, one dance, and two musical performances. Without a doubt, the inmates are the most compelling speakers, though each of the other four share information worth hearing or a perspective necessary to the whole conversation.


I would like to say more about the talks themselves, but the truth is every time I try, I fail. I’ll start thinking about Diego’s talk, where he traces his downfall to the essential mistake of leaving his baby son and his redemption to renewing that relationship, and my mind spills over to the conversation I had with a “lifer” and his fiancé about their relationship, and also to the between-talks spontaneous hug between Dan and his daughter.

I’ll consider the talk by Ben, who asks, “Will I have to move to another country to be a citizen again?” and his question becomes utterly inseparable from everything I’ve experienced that day: talks; interactions; witnessing others interact; standing in line in the “chow hall;” the hoots and hollers from the audience; the fact that the first to hoot was Marion’s own warden; Jim’s Chinet-plate painting I walk out the door with and his hilariously wry and moving talk explaining it; and even later hearing myself say “I had dinner with two lifers” and knowing how weird that sounds and how not even close to weird it was.

TEDx was introduced as a democratization of TED and what better example than TEDxMarionCorrectional: The oft-called “elitist” TED brings us inside our most disparaged and ghettoized community. At the same time, I wish the TED rules might bend a bit for this event. Watching online you’ll see what happened on the red circle on the stage, but you won’t get to know Wayne, nor will you hear Rusty’s banter as emcee. You won’t see the Speed TEDxing sessions, or dinner in the “pollination station.” Watch anyway.

But as you do, understand that at TEDxMarionCorrectional, what is talked about on stage—life inside; life outside; the preparation, transition, connection, division between the two—is exactly what is happening off stage.

It is a powerful thing to experience and as can happen with powerful experiences, I walked out a different person than I walked in. It’s a cliché I won’t even try to avoid. But I will try to be more specific:

For starters, there’s how I think about the question: Would you ever hire an ex-prisoner?

Before: I would have entertained this theoretical question.
After: I realize it’s not a question. It’s the same as asking, “Would you hire a human?” To which the answer is: “Depends, which human?”

Before: I would have accepted “better safe than sorry” as an understandable response to this question.
After: I understand that there is no “better safe then sorry.” To reduce a person to one thing, and then use it to deny what is offered to others, is always dangerous.
It’s not as if I didn’t know this before—it’s Humanity 101—but I needed the inmates at Marion to help me practice it.

Before: I didn’t think about who was behind the walls at Marion.
After: I know there are some impressive people behind those walls. Many are doing more good for the world certainly than I am. I hold this knowledge right alongside an understanding and sensitivity to the reality that, to some, just to hear the name of these men is painful.

I left TEDxMarionCorrectional with a new and intensely sharp clarity on some things and perpetually unresolvable confusion on many others, including the discordant fact that the point of prison is to keep those inside separate from me, yet in breaking that separation my life is enriched.

Don’t misunderstand, no part of me is calling for those walls to come down and my inner skeptic remains alive and well: I get that I saw one pre-approved slice of one prison and I’m also aware that prisons reward good behavior in a way that life does not. But my skeptic is also smarter now, more just, and less prone to turn a fact into an excuse for prejudice or an eraser of good deeds.

I also left TEDxMarionCorrectional feeling lucky. For my freedom? No, turns out I need to work on my gratitude because that was not my first thought. I felt lucky for having gone in. All I did was type my name into Eventbrite and clear one Sunday, and in return I received the huge gift of this experience. For next year, I know what I’m getting into and I can’t wait.

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

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We’ve invited our past TEDxColumbus speakers and other friends to give us their top five favorite talks to in turn, share with you, for our Friday Favorites blog series.

This week, Suzanne Beachy (full bio below) TEDxColumbus 2010 speaker shares her favorite talks.

Jake Shimabukuro: “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Robert Gupta: Music is medicine, music is sanity

Sebastian Wernick: Lies, damned lies and statistics (about TEDTalks)

Eleanor Longden: Learning from the voices in my head

Elizabeth Gilbert:Your elusive creative genius

A mom since 1980, Suzanne Beachy began packing school lunches for her son Jake in 1986. Twenty-four years later, she is still packing school lunches for her young kids, Natalie and Collin. In addition to the usual mommish duties of cleaning up messes and attending to the needs of young digestive systems, Suzanne has worked for pay as a music librarian, bass player, stage hand, professional letter writer and copy editor, and as a partner in her husband Tim’s building business. Suzanne was a TEDxColumbus 2010 speaker.

 

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We’ve invited our past TEDxColumbus speakers and other friends to give us their top five favorite talks to in turn, share with you, for our Friday Favorites blog series.

This week, Matt Slaybaugh (full bio below) who opened the first TEDxColumbus in 2009 and performed again in 2010 shares his favorite talks.

1. Brene Brown: Listening to Shame

2. Benjamin Zander: The transformative power of classical music

3. Barbara Fant

4. Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution!

5. Barry Schwartz: Our loss of wisdom

 

Slaybaugh is the Artistic Director of Available Light Theatre. His writing and directing of new plays and original works for Available Light and the BlueForms Theatre Group has been lauded by American Theatre magazine, New York Press, NYtheatre.com, the Central Ohio Theatre Critics Circle, the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards, and the Victoria BC Times Colonist. He serves on the Greater Columbus Creative Cultural Commission, teaches at Columbus College of Art & Design and the Columbus State Community College Life Long Learning Institute, and writes for the Agit Reader, and IndieColumbus.com. Matt was a TEDxColumbus 2009 & 2010 speaker.

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Welcome to Friday Favorites, a new addition to the TEDxColumbus blog.
As we recognized (but not necessarily overtly celebrate) the fifth year of TEDxColumbus, we’ve invited our past TEDxColumbus speakers and other friends to give us their top five favorite talks to in turn, share with you.

We are starting with the favorites of Jordan Edelheit.  Her full bio is below, but suffice to say, she’s the gravity and force behind TEDxOhioStateUniversity and one of the co-organizers behind TEDxMarionCorrectional.   Enjoy her selections below.

 

1. Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story

 

2. Natalie Warne: Being young and making an impact

 

3. Neil Pasricha: The 3 A’s of awesome

 

4. Bryan Stevenson: We need to talk about an injustice

 

5. Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability

 

Jordan Edelheit is currently studying Public Affairs at The Ohio State University, but more importantly is a social entrepreneur. She is the founder of TEDxOhioStateUniversity which now includes an incredible team of passionate students and an advisory board. Since introducing TEDxOhioStateUniversity in the fall of 2011 she has also spent time co-organizing a TEDx event at a venue quite different than a university setting– prison. The past half year was spent journeying to and from Marion organizing TEDxMarionCorrectional, attempting to make a positive impact within the incarceration system. Her newest project, The Driven (www.TheDriven.weebly.com), involved a seven week, 8,344 mile cross country road trip interviewing over 140 social entrepreneurs on what drives their passion. On campus she is involved with the service organization Ohio Staters, Inc which creates projects regarding the traditions of the university. She believes this university is a space of constant innovation and creativity and the intention of hosting a TEDx event is to create a platform to share ideas and let them continue to cultivate and grow!

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TEDxChange@TEDxKibera

Wednesday, April 3 Melinda Gates will present TEDxChange live from Seattle, Washington. Themed Positive Disruption, TEDxChange 2013 speakers will challenge preconceived ideas, spark discussion, engage leaders and shed light on new perspectives.

Join the TEDxColumbus community to watch the livestream of this thought-provoking event at resource from Noon- 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 3. To register to attend, click here. For more information on TEDxChange, click here.

TED.com says:

Disruption is usually unwelcome. It represents conflict, chaos, and potential danger. We discourage disruptive behavior in our homes and our societies, often favoring passivity and compliance.

But disruption can be a positive – sometimes vital – catalyst for change. It can challenge old assumptions, ignite conversations, activate authorities and expose new possibilities. Disruption can shed a unique light on difficult issues, giving a fresh urgency and perspective to the challenges of our global community.

To solve the most intractable challenges in health and development, we need positive disruption. It is the path to true progress.

 

 

 

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Follow This, TEDTalks, TEDxColumbus

 

[by Kendra Hovey]

It’s TED week, when those both interested and able gather in Long Beach and Palm Springs to hear the latest “ideas worth spreading.” One early highlight from this year’s conference is the appearance of TEDxColumbus on the TED stage. On Monday, as part of the Inside TED session, our own Ruth Milligan, along with five other TEDx organizers, spoke about the growing phenomenon that is TEDx. The presentation to 1,500 TEDsters got a standing ovation.

“While the brief session was highly orchestrated,” Ruth reports from Long Beach, “it revealed the insight that organizers have: TEDx is a powerful medium to ignite conversation and spur inspiration in any community, school, prison or slum. For me, it was about having Columbus be on the global map. I was honored to be there.”

Joining Ruth on the stage were organizers from Baghdad, Iraq; Kibera, Kenya; Madrid, Spain; and Sydney, Australia, as well as another organizer from Columbus, Jordan Edelheit, a Junior at Ohio State University who is representing TEDxMarionCorrectional, the first TEDx inside an adult prison. As a group, the six demonstrate the reach and relevance of TED across continents and populations. Columbus, as you may have noticed, is the sole city from the Americas, both North and South. It’s a nice recognition, but perhaps you’re wondering—Why?

One explanation is that TEDxColumbus and TEDx basically grew up together.

When TED announced the new initiative in 2009, Ruth Milligan applied for a license soon after. In a few short months she and co-organizer Nancy Kramer pulled together the first event. With eight speakers and an audience of 300, it was, Ruth estimates, the 35th ever TEDx. That number has now grown to over 6,000. TEDxColumbus returned in 2010, and every year since. It is one of only a handful of TEDx events that, like TEDx itself, will turn five this year.

Still, TEDxColumbus is not the only successful and long-running TEDx. It is, though, the only one organized by Ruth Milligan. Let’s just be honest: Ruth is good at this. TED knows it. And that’s why she’s presenting.

The TEDx manual runs about a hundred pages, but that first year, it was closer to four. When other TEDx organizers needed advice, they were sent to Ruth. She became a go-to mentor for TEDx, eventually working with TED to develop a series of learning tools. You can hear her voice on seven or so TEDx Webinars, including a Q&A with TED curator Chris Anderson (shown above, giving the TEDx presentation a standing ovation). More recently, she was commissioned to do a how-to video. She’s led workshops at TEDActive, and was brought in as a consultant for TEDxSanDiego. Add it all up and that’s a whole lot of TEDCred.

8,980 to be exact.

No, I did not make that up. Yes, there is something called TEDCred. As a comparison, TED Head Chris Anderson has a TEDCred of 815.

For the record, Ruth was utterly unaware of her score. When I told her, she was visibly shocked, but still she shrugged it off: “Maybe it’ll make up for all the A’s I didn’t get in college,” she said.

If nothing else, “8,980” reflects a big chunk of Ruth Milligan’s time and energy. TED-style organizing is a lot of work, but no way will she be stopping anytime soon. It’s her thing, her passion, what Sir Ken Robinson might call her element; it’s her “KitKat,” as Ruth herself will say, drawing on the name of her father’s old (and frustratingly) all-male speech club (The KitKat Club) where, as an occasional young tagalong, she first got hooked.

Ruth Milligan, you see, is a speech junkie.

In the days before the internet she was known to troll c-span looking for a fix, and still, every year, she happily anticipates the arrival of Spring and with it a whole new crop of graduation speeches. Helping people find, craft and share their message is something she enjoys. Along the way, she says, there is almost always emotion and connection, and sometimes action and change.

One constant from the first year to the next, she says, is that “TED continually inspires conversations I never knew were possible.” [Her insights into the process are shared on the TED Blog. It’s a concise, thoughtful and highly recommended read.]

As far as contrasts, “the biggest change from year-one,” she says, “I no longer have to explain TED or defend it anymore.” Nor does she need to push ticket sales. In 2009, the first 50 sold “out of the gate” to TED fans. Speaker connections and the community around the Wexner Center and OSU accounted for the next 100. So, how’d she sell the remaining 150? In her own words, “I worked my ass off,” she says.

Another change is that speakers are now finding her (or in some cases their PR agent). By the same token, she and the curatorial team have honed their process. “I’ll listen to anyone,” she says, “but we don’t make the mistake anymore of accepting a speaker for the wrong reason.” She’s also learned to be blunt. “This will take 30…40…50 hours,” she now tells speakers, “It won’t be easy. It will be messy.”

Being on stage at TED was a high point for Ruth Milligan and, as always, she would love to see a TEDxColumbus speaker at TED or featured on TED.com. But, “far more important now,” she says, is what’s happening here: “I see the power of people sharing even if no one else outside of our community hears them.” It builds community. It can lead to action, whether for just one person or on a larger scale. Columbus, as a “smart and open city” needs an elevated dialogue, and TEDxColumbus is a platform, Ruth says, for turning up that dialogue. “People trust it and consider it part of the cultural fabric,” and that, for her, is the most gratifying part of all.

There’s one last question I had to ask Ruth the Speech Coach:

“Nervous?”

“No.”

She put herself through the same paces she would her clients. But, honestly, she’s an easy client: “For whatever reason this is not my challenge…Figuring out how to dry my hair well…That’s my challenge.”

 

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

Featured photo courtesy of Nancy Kramer; all others courtesy of TED

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We get asked all the time by other TEDx organizers what our financial model is.  We’re thrilled to share it here as we’ve worked hard the last few years to figure what will work best.

We have a special fund at the Columbus Foundation, our community foundation, set up to receive contributions from individuals and corporations that want to support TEDxColumbus. COSI, our local center of science and industry (think children’s museum meets awesome science center) then acts as our fiscal agent, receiving the money from the TEDx Fund and also ticket sales. They in turn, pay all the expenses for the event.

We aim for our expenses for our event match our income. Our major line-items include technology and production; event staging, lighting and sound; food for attendees; parking and printing. We get a massive amount of goods and services donated – such as all of our creative, photography, web support, animation and mobile application.  We have a special grant that underwrites basic event coordination expenses which allows the event to be sustainable and is applied to web updates, speaker coordination, sponsorship fulfillment, ticket monitoring, volunteer oversight, vendor coordination and social media and community engagement. At the end of the event if we have overage (income exceeds expenses), we apply it to next year’s event and/or our minimal expenses on our viewing events (TEDGlobal, TEDxChange, TEDxWomen, TEDxKids) and our ongoing outreach efforts (Follow This, our blog, and Readers’ Roundtable, our book outreach series).

Many communities are still at a loss on how to organize with a fiscal agent. As COSI as our host, we are blessed with a symbiotic relationship which helps manage our back-office at no additional cost to us, while allowing us to focus on curating the best event possible.

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Our friends at Studio 35 have generously opened up their theater to us on MLK day from 2pm – 5:00pm to view a great selection of TED and TEDx talks. Our goal is to reflect on some important messages by watching a series of inspired talks together. And also stay warm on what is usually a frigid January day!

This is not an officially licensed TEDx event, just a gathering put together by those who do organize TEDxColumbus.

Details:

MLK Day Viewing Event

Monday, January 16, 2012

Location:  Studio 35, 3055 Indianola

Time:  Set one:  2pm – 3:15pm,  Break: 3:15 – 3:45pm; Set two: 3:45pm – 5:00pm.  Conversation can take place until 6pm.

Admission: Free

Concessions:  Will be open. Pizza can be ordered. Beer, popcorn, candy for sale.

Registration: Not required. If you plan on bringing a big group of students, please let us know here so we can make sure to accomodate you.

Parking: Available on the Indianola until 4pm on both sides of the street. But at 4pm, parking is permitted on the east side of Indianola (read: you will be towed). Please plan accordingly.

Talks to be shown: (Listed as played on 1/16/12)

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action

Derek Sivers: How to start a movement

Sheryl WuDunn: Our century’s greatest injustice

Eli Pariser: Beware online “filter bubbles”

Majora Carter: Greening the ghetto

Mallika Sarabhai: Dance to change the world

Michael Sandel: The lost art of democratic debate

Karen Tse: How to stop torture

Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies

Natalie Warne: Being young and making an impact

Brene Brown: The Power of Vulernability 

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I loved Niall Ferguson’s talk on The Great Divergence, which he titled, “The 6 Killer Apps of Prosperity.”

He posits what has led to Western prosperity and explains why those advantages have or are eroding. “It is our generation that is witnessing the end of Western predominance,” he says, and provides data to back it up.  It is a great, brief look at macro changes through the eyes of a historian.

John Lowe
CEO
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

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TED talks are nearly always inspiring, but it’s not often that you find one that makes you rethink the way you live at least three times a day, every day.

Mark Bittman’s talk did that for me. And even though I’ve read my Pollan and my Waters, there was a certain clarity to Bittman’s talk that seemed to focus all the politics of it down to YOU. Not just the food industry or government subsidies or whatever other faceless entity you can blame for the way we eat (though that’s in there too).

You might look at the title of the talk, “What’s wrong with what we eat”, and think you’ve heard it all before. But you haven’t. And you should watch.

 

Mike Beaumont
Spacejunk
Creative Director

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