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Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxColumbusWomen

Gabrielle Crosby at TEDxColumbus, the first prisoner to speak on a public TEDx stage

by Kendra Hovey

Gabrielle Crosby has been incarcerated for three years. She has seven more to go. Yet, one Thursday a month she visits South Africa. She smiles and waves joyfully to the children at Sunflower House Hospice, then catches her breath and stands tall as she and a choir of inmates begin the first notes of “Little Bit of Me.” The women sing; they perform a puppet show; and when the children respond in song, they listen, eyes beaming.

This visit is a Skype visit, uniting incarcerated women in Ohio with children in hospice care in South Africa. It is also rehabilitation. The first time Gabrielle sang to the children and they sang back, “that was the moment,” she says, “my life began to change.”

Gabrielle shared these words to an audience of over 600—not by Skype, but in person in downtown Columbus. While prisons have hosted TEDx events (and at TEDxRiodelaPlata a prisoner—Martin Bustamante—shared a poem from his seat in the audience), Gabrielle’s talk at TEDxColumbusWomen marks the first time a currently incarcerated person has given a talk on a TED or TEDx stage outside of prison. And on that stage, Gabrielle delivered this message: “I may be serving a sentence but I am also serving a purpose.”

“Music is healing,” she says, and as a member of the Inside/Out Choir, a partnership between The Harmony Project and the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW), Gabrielle has experienced the benefits of giving back: “I am astonished at the impact I can have…and I have found something I have been missing for a long time: My voice.”

Gabrielle was introduced at the event (themed Own It: The Power in our Story) by the warden at ORW, Ronette Burkes. Cheering from the audience were five fellow choir members. Warden Burkes had arranged for the inmates to attend the event both to support Gabrielle (not only is she the first prisoner to speak from the stage at a public TEDx, because of prison protocol she was not told when or where until just a few hours before) and so that they could participate and interact with the world that they will soon be reentering.


Warden-Burkes-and-Gabrielle at TEDxColumbusWomen 2015

If all this doesn’t exactly fit with what we think we know about prisons, actually, says Burkes, safe contact with the outside world is an essential part of rehabilitation. And towards this mission, the Harmony Project has been a perfect partner.

Under the direction of David Brown, the Columbus nonprofit harmonizes voices through singing and communities through service and education. There are a number of choirs under the Harmony Project umbrella, and Brown says he runs Inside/Out the same way he runs all his choirs—which is to say, very unlike every other choir you know. In David Brown’s choirs, no one has to audition, but everyone has to serve.

The result is diversity, not just of ability, but of age, culture, religion, orientation, and affiliation. Choir members sing together and serve together—painting murals, tending gardens, building playgrounds—and they break bread together. The Harmony Project creates opportunities for families with different histories and points of view to sit at the same table and share a meal.

one-family-03 Copyright Shellee FisherThough the logistics are more complicated, the Inside/Out choir is no different. They serve children across the globe by singing, sharing their love and connection, and making homemade toys and supplies however they can—last year they sent 700 pairs of hand-knitted socks to the Sunflower House community.

They also break bread with different families. At ORW, inmates, guests from Columbus, and correctional officers dined side-by-side. Likewise, one evening a small group of inmates were able to join a dinner hosted by the Harmony Project in Columbus.

On the TEDx stage, Gabrielle spoke about the transformation the choir helped bring to her own life. She and many women at ORW are mothers separated from their own children. Gabrielle is mom to three, and the separation from her youngest, born a few months into her prison term, sent Gabrielle into the darkest period of her life. Across the ocean, the terminally ill children in South Africa are also separated, many of them, from their own mothers.

Through song, the women and children have formed a powerful and healing relationship. “Call it warm fuzzy if you want,” says Brown, “but it’s changing lives, not in a Hallmark way, in a gutsy, emotional, confrontational, evolutionary kind of way.” There’s nothing subtle about the metaphor here. Says Brown: “In singing, people find and express their voice—and every voice matters”


Inside Out choir


Kendra Hovey is editor at TEDxColumbus: Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at, more of her writings are on Medium.  

Photos of TEDxColumbusWomen courtesy of Time Tank Labs; Photo of Harmony Project dinner courtesy of Shellee Fisher


Follow This, TEDxColumbusWomen

TEDxCbusWomen Own It all

by Kendra Hovey

Inspiration good, action better. What next?

These #sixwords tweeted by @sdk614 at the close of the morning session of TEDxColumbusWomen ask a very good question. So I decided to pose it to the speakers and performers that made the event, to quote other tweets, “amazing,” “memorable,” “incredible,” “uplifting,” and “kinda awesome,” and I gave them a deadline—a short one. Once videos are up and ideas spread farther, Follow This will dig deeper, but last Thursday at the Southern Theater the energy, enthusiasm, and engagement was palpable, so why wait?

From each speaker, in order of appearance, some first steps towards what’s next:

Amanda Scott (Owning Your Story) recommends another TED Talk, Caroline Heldman’s “The Sexy Lie.” It’s one she referenced in her talk. She also suggests this Psychology Today article: “Do Women Want To Be Objectified?” 

For a “cool, visual depiction of gender and sexuality” Liz Balk (Living in the Middle) suggests Sam Killerman’s infographic, The Genderbread Person. Liz is also featured in the documentary,“Kings, Queens, and In-betweens” by 5 Sisters Productions (and 2013 TEDxColumbus speaker Gabrielle Burton), currently in post-production, out later this year. You can view the trailer here:

A TED Talk that is an inspiration for Casey Brown (What Price Do You Place on Excellence?) and that she believes would be a good resource for others is Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  

While LaChandra (Lala) Baker (Use That Voice!) and her daughter Aujolie (Aujie) Baker don’t have a specific website for their music, LaChandra shares some background on, as she says, “who we are and what we stand for”:

The greatest joy of Lala‘s life is to educate, entertain and encourage people through her interactions both on stage and in real life. In addition to performing, Lala is also a communications manager at Cardinal Health, a freelance consultant and a small business owner of an It Works! global nutrition and skin care distributorship. She is happily married to the best man in the world, Brian, and they both love living life to the fullest! You can connect with Lala via Facebook, LinkedIn or her business website.

Aujie is a 13-year old dynamo! She has been acting and modeling since she was three. She has appeared in commercials for Woodsmen of the World Insurance and Skyline Chili. Locally, she has been seen on the stage in productions for Catco for Kids, Columbus Children’s Theatre, SRO Theatre, Wagnalls Memorial and Canal Winchester Middle School. Aujie loves to entertain and encourage people with her performances. She is an honor student and an amazing person. You can connect with Aujie through her mom!

Erin Upchurch (Choosing Compassion in the Face of Diversity) recommends to sites that may be helpful:

Joanna Ruthsatz (Connections Between Prodigies and Autism) points us to her upcoming book on the link between autism and genius, The Prodigy’s Cousin 

Jennifer Adams (The Beauty of the Black Man) “highly encourages” people to look at the photographic work of Mr. Gordon Parks and Mr. Saddi Khali. She also has three books to recommend:

Natalie Spiert shares this video about her personal journey to becoming a survivor, with the intention that it help eliminate the stigma around sexual assault. For more on the topic of Sex Ed, she offers, as a start, the following two articles:

Songs and videos by Ladies of Longford are on their site and YouTube channel.

To learn more, volunteer, or stay connected to Jessica Hollins’ (They Own Their Story—and a Blanket) project, the website for My Very Own Blanket has everything you need. 

A web resource Mark MacNaughton (Through the Eyes of My Daughter) uses quite often is MARC—Men Advocating for Real Change. White men, he says, “have no more control than anyone else does over their own race, gender, etc,” and he likes this resource because “it has you acknowledge you have advantages because you are male (or white male) and has a mantra of ‘use your privilege with honor.’ It’s an approach that “really motivated me to do more,” he says.  

Lauren Kinsey has three sites to share. Two she mentioned in her talk. The third is her website, where she has also posted a transcript of her talk: 

To learn more about Theresa Flores and S.O.A.P. or to get involved, go to You can also learn about her story in her book and a documentary film

Melissa Crum shares two news reports about the race-based academic standards she spoke about in her talk. One from the Huffington Post. The other NBC Nightly News. A perfect pairing with these news reports, she also shares a video that explains “Deficit Ideology.” The video deepens understanding and also places these race-based standards into a highly important historical context. 

Larry Smith (I Would Have, You Never Asked) will launch Six in the City at the Columbus Arts Festival, weekend of June 12–14. For more Six Words and to get future updates on Six in the City, go to and www.sixwordmemoirs.comFor Six Words in educational settings, there’s Six in Schools, and you can check out Larry’s all-illustrated, all-student Six-Word Memoir ebook with TED Books

The Inside/Out Choir will be one of the choirs featured at “All Together Now” a Harmony Project concert this Wednesday June 3rd. The Harmony Project website is the best way to keep informed of future events. Speakers Warden Ronette Burkes and Gabrielle spoke about the choir and also the Ohio Reformatory for Women. You can learn more about ORW on their website. The prison is a short drive from Columbus. Arrangements need to be made in advance, but visitors are welcome at ORW and at Tapestry.  

Kendra Hovey is editor at TEDxColumbus: Follow This. On Twitter @KendraHovey, she blogs at, more of her writings are on Medium.  




May 28, 2015

9am – 5pm

Southern Theater, Downtown Columbus

If you haven’t bought your ticket yet, you still may do so here. We will  keep the box office open until the program begins if you want to bring a last-minute guest!.


If you have your ticket, please pre-register here. We need to know your name and email address to accept you into the theater. Deadline for pre-registration is Tuesday, May 26 at 6pm. 

The 3 most important details:

1.  Dress casually. As in…jeans are OKAY! We want you to be comfortable, especially at the picnic lunch.

2.  Bring a box of tampons to donate to ORW’s Tapestry Program. We want to donate at least 100 boxes.

3.  Come with an curious mind, open heart and willingness to have rich conversation.

How the day will roll

Parking is most available across the street from the theater at the Columbus Commons lot. There are also nearby surface lots.

Registration opens at 8am. If you haven’t pre-registered here, it will take you a few more minutes to access your seat than others who have.

We will have coffee and tea service upon your arrival.

Program begins promptly at 9am with local talks for two sessions. We’ll have one break for snacks and conversation.

Around noon we’ll break for lunch (box lunch, picnic style at Columbus Commons).  Plenty of vegan and GF options will be available.

After lunch back in the theater from 2-5pm, we’ll show two sessions of from California of TEDWomen (we will decide that day which sessions are ready to view on the time-delay).


No videos may be taken, certain talks are prohibited from photography (we’ll let you know which ones). No flash photography. All seats are general admission. If you want to tweet, post or blog during the show on your laptop, please take a seat in the back row as to not disturb other participants or speakers.

You may come and go as you desire, but we hope you can at least see all the local talks. The speakers and performers have been preparing incredibly hard, we appreciate your support of them and TEDxColumbusWomen overall! We look forward to seeing you Thursday!



In a few weeks at TEDxColumbusWomen 2015 among other thoughtful speakers and performers, we’ll be showcasing the Inside/Out Choir, a joint project of the Tapestry Program, a therapeutic community at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, and The Harmony Project.  While you may have seen them perform once or twice at other events, we wanted to help raise their voices even broader.

But two things happened recently which has led me to make a special, small appeal to our community.

First, we decided to host a tampon drive at the TEDx event on May 28th. The Free The Tampon campaign has been featured recently in the New York Times and the writer of those stories inspired us to have an actual drive, to bring the social awareness to a simple, actionable step. But we hadn’t yet decided the beneficiary.

Then I went to ORW to visit the women in the choir we will be showcasing. I remember hearing Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman’s moth recording how she was given free tampons during her stay in prison. So during my visit, I asked Tanya, the woman sitting next to me, how she accessed sanitary products.

“Everyone gets free pads. But we have to pay for tampons,” she said.

I asked how much they were, not expecting the rapid response.

“They are $2.31 for a box of 10. And they are the cardboard applicator Tampax brand.”

She continued, “Most women don’t have a lot of family support. And the little money they make at their job isn’t enough to cover them.”

No matter how you feel about the crimes these women may have committed, I would hope you agree with me that they have the right to access the most basic of sanitary products, which in turn is access to basic human dignity.

When I asked the director of the Tapestry program if it would be acceptable to donate tampons. She said people donate goods all the time – but not often tampons.

The women of the Tapestry program who are also in the choir will be watching the livestream of our event. And we’ll be enjoying their song and talent without the chance to tell them thank you in person, like we will the other speakers.

So please help show our appreciation by bringing a box of tampons (or 2!) so that we may send the choir a very little gesture of appreciation in return.  If you cannot attend and would like to contribute a box, you can have them delivered to RESOURCE/AMMIRATI, 343 North Front Street, Cols 43215 before May 27. And there’s nothing keeping you from dropping off any supply straight to the guard desk at ORW.

And if you want to come to the event on May 28th, tickets are still available here. We’d love to have you.

– Ruth Milligan


Please help us congratulate the following speakers and performers who have been selected to present at TEDxColumbusWomen: OWN IT – The Power in Our Story on Thursday, May 28th at the Southern Theatre. This spectacular lineup of all local talent will take the stage from 9am – noon, while we will stream the global TEDWomen conference from 2pm – 5pm after a picnic lunch for all attendees at Columbus Commons (weather permitting).

It is important to know that men are welcome to attend and as you can see, we’ve included a few in our lineup as speakers. Our world needs the full participation of women and their talents, and we recognize that men have a role in that process.

TEDxColumbusWomen 2015 speakers and performers:

Jennifer Adams, The Beauty of the Black Man

LaChandra Baker, Use that voice!

Liz Balk, Living in the Middle

Casey Brown, Valuing Ourselves

Melissa Crum, Educating on Racism through Art
Theresa Flores, Are we halting human trafficking?

Ladies of Longford, Performers

Lauren Kinsey, Breaking through the Tech Ceiling

Mark McNaughton, Through the eyes of my daughter

Inside/Out Choir, Performers

Amanda Scott, The challenge in owning your story

Larry Smith, A story in six

Natalie Spiert, Sexual Assault on Campus: Where it starts.

Joanne Ruthsatz, Connections between prodigies and autism

Erin Upchurch, Living in fear: Transwomen of Color
Biographies for all speakers can be found here.

Tickets are now on sale for $45/each (plus $3 theater restoration fee) by calling CAPA at 614-469-0939 or visiting ticketmaster (additional fees apply). 

There is no ticket limit for this event but if you buy for a group, we will ask you to register your attendees the week before the event. You will receive a separate email with a registration request.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at

With gratitude to LeaderOPTICS, Carol Andreae, and OCLC for their generous partnership in helping to underwrite this event.  And many thanks to the curatorial committee who helped to make the tough choices for the speakers and performers for this event. We are grateful to all of our supporters! As always, contact us ( if you are interested in a partnership.


 by Ruth Milligan

Within 24 hours of our initial announcement, our 2013 TEDxColumbusWomen event sold out. Albeit, the tickets were free, but we had a waiting list as long as the attendee list. The day of the event, the seats were filled. Struck by this enthusiastic response, I thought about other women-focused events that happen in town. Thinking about TEDx within this context, and certainly with no intention of criticizing these valued events, I find that they all have three things in common:

One, they are important events for THAT organization, in terms of raising money and delivering a message.

Two, they are short in nature without a lot of time to meet other people (go in, sit down, eat for 5 minutes, listen to a speaker, leave). Certainly some events have a networking period, but in my experience they are often short and that means most of us connect and “catch up” with those we already know.
And third, for table captains or members of the committee, the task is to “bring 10 friends.” Hmmm. I feel that on points 1 and 2 TEDxColumbusWomen offers something different and valued—information sharing that is not bounded by a particular cause, as well as time and opportunity to connect and make new connections. But, “bring 10 friends . . .” It’s not our policy, but it made me think about how it is we do bring people into the TEDxColumbus community, and whether or not we are inadvertently stuck inside our own inner circles. This began to bother me (more on that in a minute).

When TED announced TEDxWomen 2015 would be on May 28th, we knew we would host another local event and, this time, at a larger venue. The Columbus Foundation has been a lovely venue for the last 4 years, but it’s time to move to a theatre, so off to the Great Southern we go—where we can host more talks with a higher production value and, in turn, spread more ideas. (Note: the morning will be local talks, the afternoon a livestream from the global TEDxWomen).

But the part about diversity continued to nag at me. I decided it was time to be active about it, not passive. Here’s the thing: The purpose of our events are not to find new avenues to raise money. We raise just enough to cover costs—it’s in the TEDx bylines. And we don’t just want to spread the “message of TEDx,” nor are we interested in the “appearance” of diversity. We seek a deeper cross section of the community for more connection, sharing and engagement. Diversity of ideas and stories makes for a better event. Sharing those ideas and stories with a diverse audience makes for a better city.

So, if I asked 10 of my friends to bring 10 of their friends, how diverse would it really be? Have any one of those 100 people immigrated to America? Lived on minimum wage? Have any earned a PhD? Been a single mom (by choice)? Been to war? Are any CEOS of large-cap companies? Are any transgendered? Maybe, but unlikely.

So that’s where the Ambassador role enters the picture.

What if we invited people to help spread the word about TEDxColumbusWomen with one intent: Reach BEYOND your circles of influence. Invite acquaintances, once-met people, colleagues in other buildings, people from neighborhoods across town, churches across the street, parents you see only on drop-off at school, maybe whose names you don’t even know. As an ambassador, sure, go through your contacts and invite the 10 friends who recently invited you to a fundraiser, but the promise is to make a stretch and invite 10 that aren’t in your rolodex.
Then at the event during our picnic lunch, the hope is that these loosely connected acquaintances will meet and find deeper connection, learn something new about each other, and broaden their empathy and knowledge. Or maybe just attending the event itself and listening to the talks will achieve that goal.

The theme of TEDxColumbusWomen this year is OWN IT: The Power in Our Story. So while the curatorial team eagerly makes decisions about who will be on the stage presenting formal ideas, the Ambassadors will be eagerly working to assure those in the audience have come from every corner of our community. And the intersection of the two may produce 100 more ideas worth spreading.

To be an Ambassador, we ask that you attend one orientation session on April 17th at 9am. Facilitated by Suzanne Roberts, we’ll have a quick study in inherited privilege and how we can achieve far more as a collective, crossing boundaries and perceived barriers. To volunteer, email Morgan Howard at  And if you are wondering, we have some sponsors offering partial and full scholarships that the Ambassadors will be able to offer to individuals, to assure that economics is not a barrier to sharing and spreading good ideas. If an Ambassador wants to sponsor an attendee, that is welcome too, but is not expected.

Here’s to sharing and spreading great ideas from Columbus on May 28th! We look forward to seeing you there as a speaker, attendee, partner or Ambassador!


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