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Follow This, TEDxColumbus

TEDxColumbus 2014 Steam on twitter

by Rashmi Nemade

This was my first time attending a TEDx event. Sure, I have watched TED Talks online, but being at an event is a wholly different experience. It was electric; the buzz and anticipation were palpable. People meeting for the first time, seeing others after a long time, and many asking if this was their first TEDx. An impressive 900 people were in attendance—a sold out event.

The day began at noon with lunch, after which we were welcomed into the theater, music booming. I found a seat, introduced myself to the people around me, chitchatted. Honestly, I hardly felt like I was there to watch ‘talks’; It felt like a show, and once the organizers took the stage that’s exactly what they called it—a show. This one with talks, dance and music, all interesting and engaging. There were three sessions and between each a break, with the hosts encouraging us to change seats to meet more new people. It’s a fantastic way to get different vantage points in the theater as well, but if you’re a note-taker like me, avoid the last row at the Riffe. It can get surprisingly dark up there.

The first session inspired action. It was bursting with the energy of opening the event and included talks on education, art and math, and a performance by Transit Arts of poetry, dance and music. Feet were moving and hands clapping.

And fingers were tapping out tweets. Here’s a few from the first session:

Foley D DehoffFoley Mary KFowley K WolffFowler ChuTA Escusa

Transit S Fisher

Prince S Hughes

Rinaldo K Coholich

First jeff

Then came the first break: snacks and, for many of us women, a long bathroom line (and a little bit of worry that we’d make it back in time). The second session focused on what’s percolating beneath the surface with talks on fracking, nanotechnology, psychology and racism. I’m a science person, so it was a nice lesson for me to see two speakers, Jessica Winter (nanotechnology) and James White (bias/racism), actually enlarge and deepen their topics by including their own personal stories.

Mishra B LoeschWinter b longBushman HJTwhite k marty

Another break brought out irresistible pastries and sweet treats. Some, I recognized from a local high-end bakery. As I reflected on the lunch and two breaks, I have to say, I was pleasantly impressed at the quality of food at this event. The lunch had great options for any dietary preferences and the snacks were ample and filling.

The third session ignited the flame and started with music from Damn the Witch Siren. It was hip. It was cool. It was as if they had titled their piece “Sensory Overload,” and it reminded me that I am old. It was also, I suppose, a good segue into the first talk which compared the Columbus punk rock startup of the 90s that fizzled with the Columbus tech startup of today that the speaker Jay Donovan argues (based on a 4-part model) will soar. This session also included three so-called “passion” talks that are short and more personal. The passions are trains, teen parents, and thrift store photography (I’m being brief, but at 5 minutes long, why not just watch them?) The most memorable, for me, was the last talk by Chad Bouton whose visionary research has given the freedom and independence of movement to a paraplegic student. The talk was personal, touching, grounded in science, and when the student came out on stage—emotional.

Dthe Witch siren M Brown

Session two  j glavic

CIFRail O carroll

Bouton thanson

Whew! After three sessions, I found myself in a strange paradoxical space—both invigorated and exhausted! I’m an extrovert, so being in the TEDx environment is energizing for me, but at the end of this day, I couldn’t possibly mingle and meet more people during the happy hour. There was so much to think about, process and explore, that I just wanted to get back to some place quiet with my own thoughts. Luckily, for an extrovert it doesn’t take that long. The walk to my car and drive home was all I needed. I walked in the door and was off processing all that I had learned by sharing the day with my family!

M RobinsonzainabR Frantz

 

Rashmi Nemade is principal at BioMedText, Inc.

Editor’s Note: The logic behind tweet selection is there’s no real logic. Searching by #tedxcbus and tedxcolumbus, we tried to cover the variety of talks and performances, and include a variety of voices on twitter. We did not avoid negative tweets. We didn’t find any. Perhaps Columbus critics were just nice enough to  leave off the hashtag.

 

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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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Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

The answers are tallied and submissions (so far) are in. We can now share what TEDxCbusers think of Columbus and what Columbus (+ surrounds) thinks of TEDxColumbus. Before the 2013 event we invited attendees and live-stream viewers—at McConnell Arts, Marion Correctional (MCI), home, office, etc—to write about their Out There experience. Their posts are below (please add your own in the comments).

And during the event, sometime after the aliens, brain pacemakers, cats in code, anti-terrorist dry cleaning and lunch but before the Maillard reaction, tampons, valleys, sewage, healing and “genderbread,” each audience member was given a 3×5 card and asked to answer 3 questions:

  1. Why are you here (at TEDxCbus)?
  2. What are your talents?
  3. Has Columbus provided you the opportunity to share your talents?

543—almost 75% of attendees—responded. Here’s what they said:

Why Here?
The answer to this question typically came in pairs (“to grow and connect”) or in triplicate+ (“to be inspired, enriched, motivated, to make change”). Judging by word count alone, to learn and to be inspired were the top two reasons. And the brain, whether it would think differently, wake up, open up, or be fed or fueled or blown altogether, was the biggest beneficiary, but not the only one: a few came to “open my heart,” “feed my soul” or “to be moved to act differently.” Other reasons, from most repeated to least: Community (connecting, conversing, celebrating); To Support Someone (a speaker, mostly); Personal Growth (motivate, refuel, “clear the cobwebs”); Fun; and To Listen to Others. There was also a sprinkling of “curiosity,” “creativity,” “innovation” and “I love TEDs,” plus one or two outliers: “I am here as a spy.”

What Talents?
Interestingly, in these career-focused times, less than 5% of respondents mentioned a professional title or identity. (Who did the most? The dancers.) Instead, an absolutely overwhelming majority said their talent was helping others. “Others” was usually non-specific, but some subsets emerged, namely youth, community and animals. Parenting and advocacy (#1 environment; #2 arts) were other oft-repeated talents. Many listed personal qualities, such as “kindness,” “modesty,” “loyalty,” “being a good neighbor;” and a few were much more specific, mentioning a talent for “great pastry,” “a bad accent,” “selling a lot of jeans,” “solving puzzles,” and “soup.”

Is Columbus Supporting Our Talents?
YES—say a whopping 87.3%. For 8.7% the answer was NO, while 4% did not answer or were out-of-towners. It is interesting, too, to look at how respondents shared their Yeses and Nos. With variations in size and placement, the bulk (401) of the total yeses (474) were straightforward, unadorned and unqualified. Among the rest that were more detailed in their response (73), the emphatic, superlative, decorated YES (62)—as in, the big bubble-lettered YES, Abso-freakin-lutely Yes, Yes x 10, even Yes x 1,000—beat out the tentative YES (11)—as in, 1/2 Yes; Yes…but barely—by a ratio of nearly 6 to 1. In contrast, just under half of the total NOs (47) were clear-cut (23). Only 1 was a resounding NO! The rest stopped just short with either a “Not Yet” (13) or “Not Fully” (8)—also expressed as “ish” and “meh”—and 2 of the NOs blamed themselves (“I haven’t taken enough advantage…”; “I think the onus is on me now…”)

There you have it. And now, a sampling of what Columbus has to say about Out There:

Brian Crawford, live-stream at MCI
I felt honored to be a part of the TEDxColumbus simulcast here at Marion Correctional. The entire production was great and I got something from every TEDx talk. My favorite talk was the young man (Austin Channell) talking about grade point averages and how the system is flawed. I felt hurt because I have four children in school and this could affect them. I felt like getting up and running to my kids’ school to demand change. As a parent this issue hit me deeply. I absolutely loved the event. I felt free for a few hours.


Doug Dangler, live-stream on computer
Consider these quotations from Michelle Alexander’s talk:

  • During a 30-year period of time, our nation’s prison population quintupled.
  • We have the highest rate of prison incarceration in the world, dwarfing the rates of even highly repressive regimes like Russia or China or Iran.
  • As of 2004, more black men were denied the right to vote than in 1870.

It’s an overwhelming problem, with the final statistic pointing to the thesis of Alexander’s talk: institutionalized racism is evident in the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, resulting in a new caste of legally disenfranchised and dehumanized people, who are overwhelmingly poor and of color. Alexander said that nothing less than a radical revision of the criminal justice system, with attendant major upheaval and social change, will combat this problem. So she ended with a call to action, asking TEDxColumbus attendees to do the “hard work of movement building.”

I was left feeling that she was right and that changes needed to be made. But how will these changes arise? The changes she’s suggesting—decriminalizing marijuana, restoring voting rights to felons, dramatically shrinking the prison population, etc.—will be an incredibly difficult sell in a nation whose elected officials can’t even keep the government open. I hope her next TEDx talk will lay out specifics of how to accomplish her goals. Clearly, this is a hugely difficult task. But a thinker and speaker as deep and talented as Michelle Alexander may be just the person to do it.


Wayne Snitzky, live stream at MCI
Watching TEDxColumbus live from inside Marion Correctional had the same effect as watching any live event, we felt connected to the event. The difference is that inside a prison the opportunity to feel that connection is few and far between. Watching as a curator is always fun because it is an opportunity to…borrow ideas for our event, and learn from their glitches and glories. My thoughts on the overall event can be summed up in the last thought I had watching the event. When Nancy Kramer gave Decker Moss a hug after his talk I thought: (tongue firmly in cheek) “Oh great, now we’ll have to stock men’s rooms with free tampons!”


David Hooker, live at COSI

One of the most interesting talks for me was a session by Mohamed Ali, the founder of the Iftiin Foundation created to foster innovation and entrepreneurial spirit in Somalia, spurring forward an economy and putting people to work.

He shared stories about bringing a dry cleaning shop to Mogadishu, figuring out how to run cappuccino machines without electricity—in a city with no functioning electrical grid after years of war—and how solar-powered street lights allowed people to stay up after dark to socialize with neighbors, and shops to stay open late. The reemergence of nightlife, missing in Mogadishu for 20 years, speaks to the simple needs and simple solutions that can have a huge impact on a culture.

Ali’s story of terrorists trying to break these streetlamps to drive people back inside and to crush an economy where people have a chance of earning a living instead of turning to illegal work or terror to support their families, speaks volumes. My sense is, his talk, and the work he does, will have great impact in this part of the world for generations to come.

 

Daniel Royston, live-stream at MCI
So…she said in a paraphrased kind of way…”you can’t contemplate what you see or hear unless the signal is degraded.” And it was this, this simple phrase that totally made my TEDxColumbus day. Now I have to confess that I may have missed the next talk or two as I contemplated this metaphorically difficult yet contextually simple sentence she had just shook me with. I mean think about it, have you ever thought about something that went well? Beyond the “This is too good to be true” cliché when things do go well? Or…are you like me and always become fixated on the imperfections we see in everything we do?

I realize that it is moments like these that draw me to TED talks and TEDx events again and again, these small unexpected moments of clarity, bursts of catharsis, or epiphanies with gravity if you will. Dr. Susan Nittrouer was talking about hearing loss, cochlear implants and the deaf learning to speak without impediments. But all I could think about was all the nights I had lain awake, my mind stubbornly refusing to shutdown as I chastised myself for whatever minute mistake I had made and contemplating just how I could avoid doing the same in the future…and then I wondered, why I never find myself in that same place at that same time reliving something incredible that I had accomplished that day and how I should strive to be that good…again…tomorrow. How did I go from contemplating a degraded signal to pondering my daily failings and my obsession with them?

I was watching TEDxColumbus via livestream at our viewing party in Marion Correctional Institution in a room full of men just like myself. Men who are reminded of their own shortcomings and mistakes every morning they wake up and look out the window to see the 20’ tall razor wire fences that surround their current residence, and I find myself thinking about all the little things I have done the last 15 years to improve my own “signal” from the horribly degraded version it was all those years ago. I will always be someone who broke the law, someone that society holds to a different standard than someone who hasn’t. But maybe the work I’ve done has been successful and my signal is no longer degraded as much as it used to be. Maybe society… and by this I mean you…will contemplate my character, my signal, as it is…today.


Matt, live-stream at MCI

I really enjoyed TEDxColumbus. I thought it was very well organized and the overall flow was planned very well. I really was humbled by all of the praise offered to the Marion Correctional team. We are all hopeful of the same future with the same goals: That every man and woman regardless of race or religion will have a voice and the platform to share ideas. Thank you, TED.

 

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

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Here is the session schedule for TEDxColumbus: OUT THERE this Friday, October 11.

Livestream link: https://new.livestream.com/tedx/Columbus

 

Session 1: 9 am – 10:30am

Scott Gaudi, Ali Rezai, Ly Apelado, Joe Simkins, Michelle Alexander

 

Session 2: 11am – 12:30pm

David Bromwich, Chris Domas, Susan Nittrouer, Kaweh Mansouri, Mohamed Ali

 

Session 3: 1:30 – 2:30 pm

Tobin-Wilcox, Nancy Kramer, Jess Mathews, Chris Fraser, Stephanie Hughes, Miriam Abbott, Josh Hara

 

Session 4: 2:50 pm – 4:00 pm

Castros, Dax Blake, Tom Knotek, Lori Moffett, Jim Fussell, Gabrielle Burton, Decker Moss

 

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Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxMarionCorrectional

The first ever TEDx in an adult prison held its second TEDx on April 21, 2013. To tell the story of this uncommon event we decided to share perspectives from both sides of the prison walls. Our editor and first-time TEDxMarionCorrectional attendee, Kendra Hovey, shared her experience in our May post “From Outside In.” Now we hear about the event “From Inside Out.” Below is our interview (questions submitted, answers returned, all in writing) with five guys on the inside: Dan and Wayne (co-founders and co-curators, and identified as such with an asterick*) as well as attendees Dave, John, and William. But before we begin, 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.


TEDxMarionCorrectional: From Inside Out
An interview with Dan, Dave, John, Wayne & William
  

FT: Many inmates were curious about how those from the outside felt about the experience of coming into a prison, what did it feel like for you to have the general public inside?

Wayne*: It is nice to be a host. I don’t often (ever) get the opportunity to have company over, in a social setting…

FT: …And did you have concerns or preconceptions about us?

Dave: I figured there would be some who had issues about coming inside these walls . . . but I was sure we could change their perception.

John: I felt very excited about meeting people from the general public. I know from TV and newspapers that the public is tough on crime. So when the conversation is about inmates the majority of people put up a wall and close their minds. Being able to share with people with an open mind was very enlightening and a new experience. I was very happy with the care that the public showed us.


FT: …So as far as your actual experience interacting with the general public…?

Dan*: I love it! The rapidity that we as a group move past small talk into substantive conversation is somewhat incredible and maybe impossible anywhere else. I am blown away by the organic nature of the day.

Dave: The entire experience for me was awesome. I spoke at the last one so I got to experience this one without the nerves and pressure of performing.

William: [People] seemed genuinely impressed and maybe even a little relieved to learn that something of substance was taking place within these walls.


FT: Turning for a moment to curatorial guidelines—and this is directed to Dan and Wayne—what criteria did you use to choose your speakers? 

Wayne*: Wait! There are curatorial guidelines???

Dan*: Auditions are open to the general population of the prison…

Wayne*: We ask for a rough guideline of their idea. Then anything worth looking at, we tape a five-minute version of their talk and, from there, we choose to work with the guys that had a “something.”

Dan*: Those in the disciplinary housing units were excluded from the audition process by the Warden’s guidelines, as were any men with disciplinary problems in the last 12 months. Other than that, our talkers could be from any socio-economic background and have any educational level. We don’t exclude anyone due to the crime they committed or their criminal history.


FT: In most of the inmate talks this year, both the life experiences that led to crime and the crime itself are acknowledged, but deemphasized—at least as compared to last year’s talks. Was this a curatorial choice? Also, do victim rights limit what inmates can tell about their story?

Dan*: This was a curatorial choice for the most part. After the first event, a lot of the feedback from guys in here was that they could go to any self-help group or AA meeting and hear personal testimonies. This year we kept an eye out for those with an idea or theory that, while not a testimony, was still unique to an inmate’s point of view and true to our theme…

Wayne*: We wanted to move towards a more normal TEDx event. However, having only ever seen two events, we worked towards what we thought a normal event would be like…

Dan*: We still tried to get our talkers to use their personal stories as a vehicle to carry their idea to the audience.

Wayne*: I don’t really know if there are any guidelines on this issue [victim rights]. We assumed there were and made decisions we felt were appropriate. We didn’t censor, we just tried to be sensitive.

Dan*: Not sure if there is a legal limit, however I think there is a limit to what guys are willing to share. Especially in a video that everyone will be able to see forever. Personally, I don’t think fondly of the kid I was at age 21 and I can’t expect anyone else to. So how do I reveal myself enough to show my authenticity without losing my standing in their eyes? Is that, or should that be a factor?


FT: Directed to everyone now, which talks were your favorites?

Dan*: Might as well ask me which of my kids is my favorite! I did have a lot of guys commenting on how awesome the b-boy/b-girl dance piece was [Deryk]. Nothing like that had hit our prison stage before.

Dave: Frank & Company just because that shit was funny.

John: Jim’s “Domino Deeds” was my favorite talk. I’ve known him for 30+ years. Most of the men that are “old-law” and in for capital crimes are very remorseful for their crime and just want to do some good in this world. They’re tired of hating and being hated. I love his idea of paying it forward and helping someone, somehow.

Wayne*: On the day of the event, I truly enjoyed Deryk and Jim—for the inside information I had. In prison, Deryk has had no opportunities to practice his art and the little practice time he got with the outside dancers on Saturday and Sunday was great for him. Jim has been incarcerated for a very long time and never spoke to a group larger than could sit at a picnic table. The courage he displayed in taking the stage was incredible. It helped that both performances were flat out amazing.


FT: Did any talk particularly resonate with your own experience?

Dan*: I think each of the talks affected me in some way, just as every conversation I had during the day did. But I really connected to Diego’s talk. I also had this fantastic conviction that I wouldn’t be like my dad. I would be there, I would keep my promises, I wouldn’t be violent and I wouldn’t make them Browns fans . . .. But then I also abandoned them with my terrible life decisions.

William: Yes, Diego’s talk really touched me. I’m not afraid to admit that I openly wept. The loss of the relationship with my son has been the hardest thing to deal with during my near ten years of incarceration. I’ve missed so much and have no one to blame but myself…

Wayne*: Ben’s thought that I may have to leave the country to be a citizen again really resonated with me. I’ll always face the Google problem.

Dave: Jim’s talk grabbed me. I mentor people, and to see them do something they couldn’t before or to see them get a better understanding of life, or to watch them mature and build a deeper connection. It [mentoring] is like Jim’s paintings—the one life I took I’m trying to give back through it.


FT: Did you learn something new from any of the talks?

Wayne*: I gained something from each person that hit our stage, but the one that jumps out is Sam Grisham. For a chief of security of a prison to share his story like that is quite unique. The perspective he shared of his job was insightful.

Dan*: Another voice that needed to be heard was Rickey’s [“Intelligence is the New Swagger”]. We need to counter the culture of failure that our kids are bombarded with and Rickey’s talk might reach those that Glee won’t.

John: I know that it will be hard to adjust back into society, but after hearing Naj speak… his talents and qualifications should have outweighed his past, not to mention the number of years he served in here. If society was against him, how will they react to me after serving 40 years? Should I not even try to fit in, sparing society the embarrassment and me the heartache?


FT: Did this TEDx event have a positive effect on you? On other prisoners? In what ways?

Dan*: The inside guys got to see that they are still human beings, that prison hadn’t dehumanized them as much as they feared, and that society, albeit a small section of it, will still converse and interact with them.

John: If this event changed one person’s perception of life, that people change, and deserve a second chance, it could not help but have a positive effect on me and on all prisoners.

Dan*: And to have been able to somehow encourage a man to step out of his peer group and put his identity on the line to spread an idea or more importantly share his story is a positive effect if ever I’ve seen one.


FT: What do you see as the positive effects for those outside of prison?

William: To see first-hand that incarceration can in fact cause someone to re-evaluate themselves and their decision-making process, and begin anew.

John: A chance to look at people differently.

Dave: It allows us to connect with the public and allow them to see we still have something to offer the world.

Dan*: The 6 o’clock news mentions on a daily basis that someone has been sentenced to x amount of time. But what happens while they’re in prison? How are they treated? What program is offered and also facilitated successfully? And x implies that person will be returning to the community. How do you want us to return to your community? The not very good human I was when I came into these walls? Or as the human being who has lived up to his potential, lives each day wholeheartedly and with communal self-awareness? These are questions that those outside of prison need to ask. These are the conversations that need to happen more often than the tougher on crime conversations. It will take many more events before we as a society start to question whether we need to, or can, come up with a better way to lower crime and rehabilitate those that we incarcerate.

Wayne*: And it offers insight into a part of society that they had no idea was so large. With the number of people being incarcerated and released each year, aspects of prison culture have already seeped into mainstream culture. And you may not realize how many felons there are in every neighborhood in America. How a society chooses to deal with criminals impacts the overall health of society.


FT: What kinds of responses did you get, if any, from inmates who watched the event on the live stream?

Dave: That we are rock stars!—no, seriously, I am.

John: They all want to be part of TEDxMarionCorrectional. The two doormen were bombarded with guys wanting to enter into the event for session two.

Wayne*: Many were proud to know that such an event was taking place in “their” institution…

Dan*: Inspired. Inspired is the word I heard the most from guys. Inspired by the fact that a TEDx event could take place in prison. Inspired that they weren’t the only ones who thought the way our talkers (inside and outside) did. Inspired to hear that CEOs recognize the stark reality of social acceptance for ex-offenders and are working towards a remedy. Inspired…wow! Isn’t that what every TED talk aims to do? Not only inform its audience, but inspire action from its audience too?

FT: Thank you.

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Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxYouth@Columbus, TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool

 

Last Spring, over a period of one month and two days, the Columbus area was host to four TEDx events: One at a prison, another at a university, yet another at a research institute, and the last at a high school.

 

What’s going on here? TEDx is growing—clearly—though not just up in numbers but out into diverse and interesting terrains.

 

Last month, we shared the story of one of these four, the second annual TEDxMarionCorrectional held on April 21, 2013 (their first event was the first ever TEDx in an adult prison). Today, we share the story of TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool (May 15, 2013). We asked 17-year-old curator and organizer Alexandria Armeni to write about her motivation to bring this event to her high school and what happened when she did. Graciously, she agreed. Here’s her story:

by Alexandria Armeni

Glancing in my review mirror at the huge red TEDx sign taking up the whole of my backseat, it was finally real: I was hosting a TEDx event.

Me . . . a 17-year-old . . . a high school senior at The Wellington School . . . I was bringing together an event that had to embody the spirit of TEDx and follow all of their rules. What had I gotten myself into?

You might be wondering, too, how a high school senior comes to be hosting a TEDx event. To tell you, I’ll have to back up to October of last year. That’s when I attended my first ever TEDx event, TEDxColumbus. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t even heard of TED before this, but after spending all day at TEDxColumbus, I fell in love. I loved the presenters and performers and meeting new people, but the main thing I loved was the concept of TEDx. I loved, and still love, the whole idea of bringing people together to share in the spread of ideas. I wanted to bring that to my school. I wanted the Wellington community to have the same experience I had and to feel that sense of being part of something bigger. So with this desire in hand (and heart) I walked up to TEDxColumbus organizer Ruth Milligan and explained that I wanted to put on my own TEDx event. She was excited about the prospect and even offered to help.

After some thinking, I figured out how I would do it: My SIP. That’s short for Senior Independent Project. Each senior at The Wellington School must do one. Not graded, it’s more of a pass or fail type of project, which is why most seniors do something like learn to play guitar or camp for a week. My SIP would be different; I would host a TEDx event.

As November came and went, I got permission from Wellington, found an advisor, and applied for my TEDx license. Winter break flew by with still no word about my license, but I had TEDx fever and didn’t want to wait any longer. I figured out a theme, Big Ideas, and decided to start finding presenters. After a ton of announcements, posts on my school’s websites, and a bit of coercing on my part, people started getting interested—not hoards of people, but enough.

As January turned into February, and February inched towards March, I started to panic slightly. I had already done so much work in planning for the event, but I still technically wasn’t a licensed TEDx event holder. It was Ruth who helped me out. Thankfully, she helped get me in contact with TED to talk about my license and after quite a few emails and a handful of phone calls I was lucky enough to get one—for a TEDxYouth event. While I hadn’t expected the youth label, after reading through the TED organizers manual and talking with the people at TED, I realized it was the right fit. The audience, after all, would be the juniors and seniors at my high school.

By the time I had my speakers and presenters all lined up, it was a diverse group. I had eight students, seven from high school and one from middle school; two teachers; my head of school; an alumnus, a parent of a current student, and a parent of alumni. I had prepared a five-page speaker packet to give my presenters an idea of the rules they needed to follow and had sat down with each speaker multiple times. Their presentations were shaping up quite nicely.

Fast forward to the beginning of May, the month of my TEDx event. It was crunch time for me, but step-by-step everything had slowly come together and the event looked like it might just work out. One week before the event I had programs in hand (folding 150 trifold programs takes a lot more time than one would imagine), a successful tech dress rehearsal, and t-shirts and food on order. A few things had me pulling my hair out, but overall everything was sort of sailing smoothly. That was, until the night before the event.

Less than a day to go and the dress rehearsal was a near disaster. With a faulty slide clicker and half my presenters unable to attend, I was near my wits end. But that was only the start of it. One of my presenters emailed me that night with a revised outline of his talk. It was completely different from the original and it broke quite a few rules set down in the TEDx organizers manual. It was also inappropriate for a student audience. I had no choice; there was no possible way I could show his talk, I had to cut him.

It was a little more than 12 hours before the start of the event and if that wasn’t enough to deal with, I also received word that the custom t-shirts I had ordered hadn’t even shipped yet. From fixing the schedule, to reprinting and folding all 150 programs, to buying a printer (thankfully I had a received some funding from Wellington) and printing homemade t-shirts, it was a long night, but everything got done.

The morning of May 15, 2013 finally arrived, and from 8:30-12:30 The Wellington School flourished with ideas and discussions about such things as walking along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, creating a small business, failing successfully, being an ant, following your dream, being true to your school, childhood obesity, the mis-measurement of students, and the ways in which technology is making people simpler.

The hours I put in, the late nights working on power points, the thousand emails to presenters, and the frantic phone calls trying to figure out just how to do everything, all while balancing schoolwork, college applications, and my part-time job: It was all worth it. And the help and support of others was not given in vain. With ten speakers, three performances, plus three TED videos, TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool was a success.

Of course, there are things I would have tweaked or changed if I had a little more experience with TEDx events, and it certainly was no TEDxColumbus. But for a high school girl’s first time hosting a TEDx event, I was more than content with the result. My little meager event brought smiles and laughter to my classmates, and gave them things to think about. It opened most of them up to the world of TEDx, and I believe that some of them experienced that same rush of being part of something bigger than themselves. TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool was basically my life for half of my senior year. I am proud of the result. It was an unbelievable experience and process, even with all the stress, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my high school career then with TED.

Alexandria Armeni is a recent graduate of the Wellington School. In the fall, she will begin her first year at the Ohio State University in the honors program, where she plans to study zoology with a minor in French. 

All photos courtesy of Alexandria Armeni

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Follow This

 

[by Kendra Hovey]

Barbara Fant is a performance poet. While this is true, as descriptions go, it’s a bit lacking; not quite capturing her rapid cascade of imagery, shrapnel-origami-kite-bee-hive-honey-lightning-Crayola, nor the swift and choppy flow of a line like, “It’s about be, it’s about be, it’s about bee, like honey, like gold, like glow, like sky.”

Both examples are from “Handfuls of Honey.” A poem which Fant performed at the last TEDxColumbus and one that speaks pretty effectively to what it is Fant does—from the personification of her words as “a nightmare at the back of my neck seeping through my throat” to the simple and clear-sighted offering: “I don’t know another way—to pray.”

Barbara Fant had been a last minute addition to the program. TEDxColumbus organizers (as every speaker forced to rehearse a million times over already knows) are not too keen on last minute anything, but having seen her a day earlier at TEDxYouth, they found five extra minutes plus 45 seconds. Fant made good use of the time; the audience gave her a standing ovation.

One of those impressed was Doug Kridler, CEO and president of The Columbus Foundation. Kridler commissioned Fant to create an original piece—with “no boundaries,” he says—for the Columbus Bicentennial. Fant read the poem at the Foundation as part of the city’s big birthday bash in February. Kridler calls it “an awe-inspiring and multi-hued articulation,” adding, “What an enduring gift she gave to everyone in our community through that poem.”

“Today Beginning Again,” as Fant titled her ode-of-sorts to the city, is part thank you note: “You geography-ed me,” “river-ed me;” “library-ed myself;” “honeyed me into reflection…” And, it’s part reminder card: “You can’t stop now.”

A video of her performance quickly made the social media rounds.

 

The 24-year-old Fant was asked to perform the poem again, this time by Mayor Coleman as part of the fanfare around his State of the City address. She can also be spotted in a couple of recent videos, “Voices of Columbus” and “Columbus Young Artists,” both sponsored by 200 Columbus (and various partners). Just last month she was a “feature” (invited guest) at a Poetry Slam in Detroit. Oddly, all this is happening at a time when the poet has been scaling back on performing. Her main focus these days is graduate school.

This may be news to many; a lot about Barbara Fant may be news. Added so late, her name didn’t make it onto the TEDxColumbus program, let alone her story. To fill things in, I caught up with Fant, finding her in Delaware, Ohio where she is nearing the end of her first year at the Methodist Theological School.

From “Handfuls of Honey” I know, to her, poetry is prayer, and when I ask how she would describe her work she calls it “poetic ministry,” so seminary school would seem to be a simple matter of connecting the dots, but when I ask, she quickly puts me straight. “Not at all, ” she says.

Growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Fant felt the call to preach at a very young age, and she can’t even remember a time in her life when she wasn’t writing. Yet seminary and slams didn’t come into her life till much later, not until after she moved to Columbus for college. “I come from a church where pastors didn’t go to seminary,” she explains, “I didn’t know what it was!”

It was during her last year at Ohio Dominican (she graduated in 2010 with a degree in English) that she first considered seminary, and it was only a few years before that, when she was about 19, that she first performed her poetry. That night was important. It was an open mic, her first, and afterwards, she’d be at the mic three or four nights a week. But when I ask about when she became a poet, she doesn’t mention the mic, she answers by talking about her mom. “She passed away when I was 15,” Fant shares, “I was angry. I had a hard time talking to people…so I wrote.”

Fant wrote—put my pain on pages, as she says in “Handfuls of Honey”—but she didn’t share. While in Youngstown she learned about open mics, saw some on TV, and she knew that as soon as she could find one and get herself there, that’s when she would start sharing. From there, it was only a matter of months before she was competing.

Both as an individual and team member, she’s won a number of Grand Slams, and two years ago, at 22, she published her first book of poetry, Paint, Inside Out, which won the Cora Craig Author Award for Young Women. She’s slowed the pace a bit now that she is in grad school, but Fant still slams and runs the occasional workshop (she’s worked with Transit Arts and Columbus Collegiate Academy, among other organizations). Most recently, she’s been spending some time in the theater—yes, she also acts.

Her approach to writing poetry, Fant says, is to “paint pictures with words.” With “Today, Beginning Again,” for example, she was drawn to the idea of Columbus as a smart and open city, then starts to break that down: “I’ll ask, what does that look like? Open…bursting…firework…and it goes from there…I try to make it come alive.”

Asked, then, about coming from poetry to preaching and the interplay between the two, she sees some commonality, but also a clear divergence: “Both poems and sermons are journeys that the listener allows me to take them on…But I do not perform sermons. I teach and preach sermons. As I minister through poetry, I am able to give people more of me, my journey and my testimony. As a preacher, I surrender myself to being a minister of the Gospel and I allow only God’s word to shine through.”


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

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A unique public art project is emerging in Columbus…

Columbus: Inside Out.  Inspired by worldwide public artist and photographer JR, Columbus is adapting its own version of this provocative initiative showcasing distinctive portraits of local citizens.

If you’d like to be featured in Columbus: Inside Out, join us on for a 10 minute photo session September 17 anytime from 10am – 12pm at COSI. Seven local photographers organized by George C. Anderson will be taking portraits of up to 150 Columbus residents to be included in the project. The city-wide installation of the project is being coordinated by Wonderland and will be unveiled in early November.

For more information, email tedxcolumbus@gmail.com.  No pre-registration is necessary to participate in the photo session; a release will need be signed at the time of photography. All ages are welcome.

 

For more information:

on JR

on the INSIDE OUT TED Prize

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