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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 kendrahovey.com, more of her writings are on Medium.  

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

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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: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=oV2YufycN9Y.

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 traffickfree.com. 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 www.smithmag.net 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 kendrahovey.com, more of her writings are on Medium.  

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An end to paralysisby Rashmi Nemade

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rashmi Nemade is principal at BioMedText, Inc.

how neurobridge works

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Follow This, TEDxAdventure, TEDxColumbus, TEDxExperiences

TEDxADventure TEDxColumbus car2goby Kendra Hovey

It’s 8:59am. You’ve got a car2go, a cohort, a clue, complimentary coffee and glazed crullers, and this challenge: Find six spots. Perform six tasks. Return. You’ve got 2 hours. Okay . . . ready . . . set . . . wave and say cheese to the hovering drone . . . and GO.

This is how the day began for 12 TEDxColumbus attendees who answered YES to a call for “fun-seeking volunteers” and met the following three requirements: (1) be available the morning of the event (2) be a licensed driver (3) don’t ask questions.

TEDx is evolving, and this morning adventure is part of a rank-and-file movement to extend TED’s engagement, curiosity, and public-spiritedness beyond the red-dotted stage and into the community. Acting independently but beginning to cohere under the title TEDxExperiences, TEDxes are bringing action, hands-on learning and a bit of elbow grease to their events. At Friday’s TEDxColumbus (11/7) there was the Morning of Action (which you can read about here) and this scavenger hunt/amazing race with a higher purpose TEDxAdventure.

CIFFrom an idea sparked by organizer Ruth Milligan, this adventure was made a reality by Columbus Idea Foundry CEO Alex Bandar—implementing, yet again, the aspiration of his own TEDx talk to “narrow the chasm between concept and execution.” Though he wasn’t thinking “scavenger hunt” when he spoke in 2011, now it’s just one more invention he’s happy to add to the prodigious and growing yield of the world’s largest MakerSpace.

I should share that after a thorough and careful review of all available evidence, I have determined that Alex Bandar is unstoppable. He may in fact live in a separate time dimension all together. Heeding the entrepreneurial credo “Say yes before you are ready,” Bandar jumped into this project on Monday. By Friday morning, all’s good to go. Sleepless, swift, bullhorn in-hand, Bandar explains the logistics of the adventure and it’s purpose to metaphorically experience the “start-up” mentality by facing six literal challenges that mirror a “start-up” feeling, behavior or demand, and to do this inside a neighborhood that is itself a start-up. Roll it all together, and the game becomes a lived and often comical story about start-up culture, as well as, the neighborhood of Franklinton. East Franklinton, to be precise, an area once made stagnant by a combination of nature and building codes until the floodwall, community leaders, artists, and young businesses began to start it up again and anew.

Now back to the drone overhead, the smiles, the waves and the word GO…

Our twelve fun-seekers, having divided into six teams—two couples, one mom and daughter, one pair of co-workers, and two pairs of “strangers”—get into six car2gos. Five start up, and cutely scamper along the streets of Franklinton. Six can’t remember their PIN.

TEDxADventure TEdxColumbus car2gos

Steered by the clue This Grandview glass arts center just relocated to Franklinton one car2go pulls in front of a Town Street building where in order to demonstrate Talent the team of two make something. In this case, a glass bead. Even better, a nice glass bead. But do it in five minutes. From here (Glass Axis—did you guess right?) it’s on to clue #2: Columbus’ wallscape pioneer.

 

GA and OB


I’ll just tell you, it’s Orange Barrel Media, or the construction site that will soon be the new home of Orange Barrel Media. And because, in reality, talent only speaks for itself after its been spoken
about, the task here is Creativity in Marketing. Teams are given a new product and must create a logo, slogan and quick video pitch—in ten minutes or less (don’t worry about that crane behind you and sorry about the noise). When given a product described as an “inner-ear language translation module,” one team turned it into The LangoThe World is Hear! And for the new concept product “a webcam-equipped crock-pot,” another team gives us THE WEBBY CROCKER: If you have OCD this is the webcam slow cooker for you!

 

TEDxCbus TEDxAdventure startup Lifestyle challenge


Next, it’s off to the
Lifestyle challenge at The brewery named after the type of institution that the Ohio State University is. Now that his one-time hobby has exploded into a huge start-up business, Alex Bandar has a lot to draw on for this challenge. These days a more accurate tagline for the Idea Foundry is not the current Knowledge, Talent, Mischief, but rather, as Bandar quips, An Unbroken Vista of Ceaseless Toil. The challenge at Land Grant Brewery is to eat and sleep: make and consume a PB&J, catch some shut-eye, and, because every moment is an opportunity for brand engagement, take a selfie. All in 60 seconds. No one did it in 60 seconds.

With the clue Its acronym sounds like the Food and Drug Administration, next stop is the Franklinton Development Association, where with $1 of capital, teams test their Financial acuity on THE WHEEL OF (MIS)FORTUNE. Each decision to spin invites success and setback:

TEDxCbus TEDxAdventure Startup financial management challenge on the Wheel of Misfortune

 

  • Your product is discovered to cause epilepsy in snails.
    Lose 15 cents.
  • Best employee quit and also hates your guts.
    Lose 25 cents
  • Oprah loves your product! Win at Life.
    Get $10


Before their first spin, one team demonstrated a talent for divergent thinking when they asked if there is “any other way to use our money right now—
besides a spin?” Later when faced with a hard decision, they tried their hand at networking: “Any hints for us?” After a string of good fortune, they did a quick assessment: “Okay, were in rapid accelerator mode, we grow too fast we could get in trouble.” Nodding, they both stood up and saying something about “good responsible business decisions,” they walked away. At $1.55, they increased their seed capital by half. All but one other team lost it all.

TEDxCbus TEDxAdventure Startup challenge


Oddly, the one clue that had an address—
the bar at 400 West Rich—proved most challenging to find. While Strongwater is inside the city-block-long arts complex 400 Rich, the entrance is on Town. Here, one half of the team gets an image. The other a drawing tool. Tasked with the challenge of getting one’s own vision into the head of someone else (also called Management), the “manager,” using only verbal direction, tries to get the drawer to reproduce the image only s/he sees (accurately and to scale). To do this, teams employed a wide-variety of sophisticated communication strategies, including foot-stomping, yelling (“No Mom! This is a happy elephant!”), positive reinforcement (“That’s freakin’ beautiful”) and incentivizing (“You are about to earn yourself a promotion”). One husband and wife team demonstrated an obvious talent for collaboration, as is obvious in this exchange:  

“It’s like a couch. A couch for one person. What do you call that?”
“Um…a chair.”

Later, when this drawer inquired if he could “put a heart on it,” the manager displayed her ability to define and maintain clear project parameters when she yelled, “Listen! And don’t you start making things up YET!” Effective communication clearly key to this challenge, the top finisher was a team of randomly paired strangers.

 

TEDxColumbus TEDxAdventure Startup management challenge

 

TEDxCbus TEDxAdventureThe final clue, The largest makerspace in the world, and final challenge, Risk Management, brings us to the Idea Foundry, where teams symbolically navigate the bumpy waters of startup life by actually navigating a quadcopter:

  • Two minutes to practice flying the 68-gram remote-control copter.
  • Five minutes to complete the flight path.
  • One point per checkpoint.
  • Three for a proper landing.
  • No points for flying the drone into your own face (“I can sue for that, right?”) or into the rafters (“Uh..ladder anyone?”).
  • But no points off either.

So who showed creativity and talent, and ably managed risk, sleep, sustenance, people and finances?  Does it matter? Failure is the new success, after all. In fact, there is a prize for best failure, as well as for most persistent and “team who turned our thinking upside down.” Judges are still deliberating. But in case it’s still true that America loves a winner, Congratulations to Michael Brown and Casey Brown, first-finishers and future magnates of the Webby Crocker Empire.

*And, yes, we do mean “Blasty”: 

Blasty

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

This TEDxAdventure would not have been possible without the amazing willingness and creative help of car2go, a great group of volunteers and these fabulous partners:

Slide24

 

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Events, Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxExperiences

TEDxExperiences TEDxCbus Broad Street Food Pantryby Taylor Swope

I’m new to the world of TEDxColumbus, and after having the opportunity to participate in the day’s events on November 7th, I wish I weren’t just catching on now.

When I signed up to attend TEDxColumbus through my company Ologie, I knew (sort of, but not really) what I was getting into. I’ve never been one to seek out a TED Talk but I’ll always watch if one goes viral on my Facebook or Twitter feeds. It’s never been something I’ve put much time into investigating. (This blog is a funny place to admit such a truth, I know.)

I went into the day with some assumptions: I’d hear people talk about some cool stuff, maybe some weird stuff, and definitely some stuff I didn’t understand. I expected to receive random morsels of information that I’d either digest or ignore.

What I realize now is that TEDxColumbus is about creativity and community, and making each a tangible part of our day. Pre-event happenings like the Morning of Action give people even more opportunity to  get creative while creating community—with strangers.

TEDxExperiences TEDxCbus

I had the opportunity to attend the Morning of Action, which like me is a newbie, added to the TEDxColumbus experience just this year. Event organizers partnered with Besa, a local nonprofit that helps people and companies match volunteer opportunities with their interests and skill sets. Volunteers met at the Columbus Commons to receive assignments and then dispersed via carpool, car2go, or Uber. (My group rode in style in Ologie’s minivan.)

TaylorWe arrived at St. Stephen’s Community House and met Charlene, the volunteer coordinator and possibly the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet. (She’s a retired math teacher and accepted a position with the nonprofit after serving as a volunteer.) St. Stephen’s is dedicated to helping community members find resources while promoting self-sufficiency. They offer programs such as childcare, tutoring, and senior services, and they are always looking for volunteer assistance.

Charlene divided our group into different tasks: childcare, cleaning and donation-sorting. I washed folding chairs and assembled plastic wine glasses for an upcoming fundraiser in December. Other tasks finished before mine, and volunteers who I had just met that morning came looking for me to see if they could assist me with my work. Our minivan full of strangers created our own community that morning in the spirit of service.

Along with St Stephens, volunteers fanned out to the Broad Street Food Pantry, LifeCare Alliance, Community Computer Alliance, and Dress for Success, where, with a nice tie-in to this year’s TEDxColumbus theme, volunteers organized merchandise, assisted clients, and literally helped STEAM donated clothing.TEDxExperiences TEDxCbus STEAM

In preparation for a day of learning through speaker passion, Morning of Action participants had the opportunity to learn about the important work being done in the community, and how through creative solutions to civic issues, lives are being impacted every day. Creativity combined with passion matters, and it’s alive and well in Columbus. 

St stephens

Taylor Swope is a freelance writer and digital project manager at Ologie, a branding and digital agency in Columbus.
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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

Sunflower wallby Kendra Hovey

In yesterday’s post I asked Who is going to TEDxColumbus? only to conclude that with a willingness to meet and engage with others, we’ll have to all find out for ourselves. Just maybe, we’ll also find talent and commitment not only on stage, but off-stage, perhaps in the seat next to us.

I’m a four-time attendee and this has been my experience—and I’m an introvert. I’ll give you one example: Cathe. At the 2011 event, Cathe and I were two of six “strangers” randomly selected to sit around a table and have lunch together. While some attendees have loved this idea, others not so much. Our table had a great time, and Cathe is definitely a “pro-luncher.” As she told me recently, “I’ve now got these ideas that I’ve heard and then I’m going to sit with these people and were going to have a wild conversation about it. It’s fantastic. I just can’t believe how interesting it is…. We exchange cards … make a little contact and off it goes…. Honestly, to sit down and not try to convince anybody of anything, but just talk about what you just heard—we don’t do it that often.”

At that lunch Cathe and I exchanged cards, talked, and met-up again, and gradually I learned more about the work to which she has dedicated much of her life. It was about thirty-five years ago that Cathe witnessed a young friend’s descent into illness from an incurable brain tumor. Just weeks after her friend’s death, she read an article about hospice (a rather new idea in the U.S. at the time). She called the facility. The woman who interviewed her—who is still in the hospice movement today—told Cathe that she still had her own grieving to do and to call back in six months. She did, and has worked in hospice ever since—a journey that would take her to the far and open spaces of Africa and to the closer and closed spaces of the Ohio Reformatory for Women.

Hospice work is “doing whatever needs doing,” says Cathe. Maybe it’s talking, doing laundry, cleaning out a cat box; there was one woman who couldn’t eat anymore, “but she loved food,” say Cathe, “she would give me a list. I’d buy the ingredients and from her bed she would tell me how to make it. She just liked the smell of it in the house. Then her family would come over and eat it.”

Sometimes, what “needs doing” is just sitting, simply being there. “That was a terrific lesson for me,” she explains. “I was so sure I wasn’t valuable because there wasn’t any demonstrate-able thing going on. Now I know that is not the case.” Hospice volunteers are more than extra hands. “Illness is isolating,” she says, “hospice says to the patient and the family, the community hasn’t forgotten you, and when a patient dies we keep track of the family for a year…. How do you talk about that kind of care? How do we talk about it?”

Contemporary American culture does not have an easy time with language around death and dying. Cathe’s comfort and straightforwardness is refreshing. It’s also essential for good healthcare: “Hospice care is in essence a conversation. The patient is at the center, surrounded by family and a multi-interdisciplinary group of caregivers. Everyone talks to each other about what is best for that patient.” Not just hospice, it’s a model that would benefit all healthcare.

These elements of conversation and community are something Cathe experiences at TEDxColumbus. It’s why she now tries to attend every year: “I find it incredibly interesting that this is the same kind of thing that happens at TEDx. You put us in the center and all these ideas are spoked around us. With hospice, if you have a caring community and family, we support that. If you don’t have that, we help you create it. With TEDx, if you do or don’t have an intellectual community, we are going to create this community—and then we’re all going to share lunch out of a box!”

Janet ParrottCathe was introduced to TEDxColumbus through Janet Parrott, a 2011 speaker and also director of the film Song of the Soul. This film exists because of Cathe. Having heard about the expertise of hospice work in Africa, she began visiting and learning, and after a chance meeting with Parrott back at home, Cathe said to her, You get a film crew. We’ll go and I’ll show you what is going on in South Africa because it is really hopeful. These are wonderful people and we should tell their story. It was a spur-of-the-moment idea, but as Cathe recalls, “Poor Janet goes: Okay.”

It was a lot of work and a lot of travel. Cathe is grateful for the film and “extremely proud” that it is written, directed, produced and financed entirely in Columbus, Ohio. Her hope is that the film will build understanding about hospice, and also show the competence of the programs in Africa, and this one in South Africa particularly. “People go to Africa thinking we’re going to save them, we’re going to show them things, Africans know stuff,” she says incredulously, “they have a tremendous amount to teach us.”

children at sunflower 2Cathe is also involved in a Harmony Project program at the Ohio Reformatory for Women (ORW). The Harmony Project is about “connecting communities across social divides through art, education, and volunteerism,” and it’s about singing, lots of singing. But within that collection of voices are people of different backgrounds, with different needs and life circumstances and the collaboration between them and the gift they give to others with their voices is what makes the Harmony Project transformative, healing, kind of like good quality healthcare.

The program at ORW—one of many within the Harmony Project—offers an opportunity for those “serving a sentence to serve a purpose and be a part of the community.” These words are from founder and creative director David Brown, who also rather deftly points out that community is where these women will one day reintegrate. When Cathe learned of this program, she visited OWR and eventually helped arrange for the choir of female inmates to sing and perform over skype to the children at Joan Marston’s Sunflower House Hospice in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She happened to be there with the children, each one with a life-limiting disease, for the first skype. “It was magic,” she says.

Brown understands that women singing to children may sound like a small thing, but he knows that it has “wonder-working power.” At Sunflower House, when a child dies their name is placed on a sunflower and added to a wall full of other named-sunflowers. The women at OWR have created their own sunflower garden wall, and on each flower is the face of a child that they sing to at the Hospice House.

Hospice can sometimes refer to a building or facility, but always it is a healthcare practice and, as much as it is focused on death and dying, it is a philosophy of living. For me, this is a changed and deepened understanding, and it came by way of two strangers meeting at TEDxColumbus with an openness to talk and to listen.

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

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Follow This, TEDxColumbus

Audince rowby Kendra Hovey

From the list of speakers you know who will be on the stage in front of you, but who will be next to you? Behind you? Who will be in the coffee line? In your lunch circle?

There are 900 possibilities, but I’ll take a small presumptive leap and suggest that one will be Maureen McCabe. The realtor and TED enthusiast has been to all five, plus some of the viewing events, and seeing as it’s not on an Open-House-Sunday, I’ll dare say she’ll show up for year six. And so, maybe, will Kate and Dave. In the past, the married couple juggled work and schedules to make sure they could go together, like a date, but not, cause “date” is just not the kind of language this couple uses. Still, there was date-like anticipation and expectations of fun and inspiration, plus lots of stuff to talk about later.

Audience lunchWho else? Well, each speaker gets two comps, so some of their peeps…and there are always past speakers who return as audience members. There’s a tech manager at a local insurance company who got tickets for her team. She considers the event a team-builder and good research for improving presentations. I’ve heard, too, of a small and overworked non-profit staff that is coming for some needed self-care. They had the option to go to a day spa. They chose TEDxColumbus instead.

There will be students and volunteers, as always, and also out-of-towners: I once sat next to a retired couple who, inspired by their son who had just organized a TEDx event out west, drove to Columbus to learn more about what this TEDx thing is all about. Another year, I met a superintendent of schools (of a faraway district) who, after a year of contentious school board battles, gifted himself a stress-free day off at TEDxColumbus.

I had met this man at lunch—yes, at the maligned and lauded contested “space” that is the TEDxColumbus Lunch. Because we benefit by being open not just to new ideas, but new people, lunch partners were randomized. Though last year that was made optional. This year the event begins with lunch: Just show up, grab a box and eat (with whomever you please).

So as to the question of who else will be at this year’s TEDxColumbus, I really have no idea, so I asked organizer Ruth Milligan. Every year there is a whole crop of new people, she says: “Many individuals come on their own, and now we’re seeing some of our past attendees returning, but bringing their entire offices with them, like 10 to 15 people. But we do assure that the majority of the seats are still available to individuals and friends, partners or spouses that want an inspiring non-office outing for themselves.”

One thing we know is that you will see people who are strangers to you. But, none of us are really strangers. We all have some connection to Columbus. We are curious and want to be engaged. There’s a common denominator that binds us, even if not readily apparent. To get the most out of the day, it’s good to bring with you a willingness to sit next to and engage in conversation with “strangers.” You may just find that the mix of talent, passion and commitment you see on stage is also off-stage, and potentially sitting right next to you. In fact, come back to this site tomorrow; we’ll be posting about one attendee’s passion and commitment, and its positive reverberations close to home and across continents.

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

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Follow This, TEDxColumbus

Scott Gaudi

by Kendra Hovey

Congratulations (x 2) to Scott Gaudi. The 2013 TEDxColumbus lead-off speaker was recently appointed JPL Distinguished Visiting Scientist and, not a month later, he was named the Thomas Jefferson Chair for Discovery and Space Exploration at Ohio State. Illustrious honors, both, but what does it all mean for the Distinguished-Visiting-Scientist–Discovery-and-Space-Exploration-Chair–Professor-of-Astronomy?

More stargazing, for one. Or, to be precise, planet hunting and, even better, planet finding.

Gaudi will also be developing future planet hunts, as well as future planet hunters. At JPL, he’ll be working with NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP) to “get the full science” out of their current and past space-based missions, as well as set priorities for future missions. Luckily for his students here, he’ll be able to do most of this close to home, visiting JPL HQ in California in short stints throughout his two-year appointment. The Jefferson Chair, and the anonymously donated endowment that comes with it, will also support and expand his space exploration efforts, and it will enable him to better train and develop the next generation of Ohio State astronomy students, “some of whom,” he says, “will go on to find new planets of their own.”

Planets_everywhere_artist’s_impression-580x382

The planets Gaudi is looking for are called exoplanets, meaning they are outside our solar system. He’s found nearly a dozen already, including two since his TEDxTalk and a potential third, which, if it passes planet muster, might be his most exciting find yet. And what makes one planet more exciting than another? In this case, it’s the temperature. If it is a planet, it will be the hottest, “as hot as a low mass star,” says Gaudi with hopeful enthusiasm. It’ll also be the ninth planet found with the KELT Survey, which was developed with his former graduate student Thomas Beatty (now at Penn State) and is an acronym for Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope. 

If you’re wondering how they know where to point this extremely little telescope…well, they don’t. As Gaudi explains, “it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, except there are a lot of things that look like needles but aren’t.” It’s laborious work, but for Gaudi the work is a privilege. As he says, “You have to take a step back and say, I just discovered a planet that no one else knew existed, that’s pretty cool, and then occasionally you find something that is not only a new planet but it’s a kind of planet no one even thought could exist or imagined could exist, that’s where things get exciting.” And, of course, there’s the science: “Those systems,” he adds, “inevitably tell us something new about the universe we didn’t expect.”

This is what’s fun about talking to Scott Gaudi about his job: He’s articulate and energetic the way a person is when they are doing exactly what they want to be doing, but also, he’s more than tolerant of a dilettante’s giddy fascination with space, he’s just as fascinated and has the potential, one suspects, to be just as giddy.

PIA18837Take JPL, for instance: Gaudi can tell you it stands for Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It’s the workplace of 5,000 or so scientists and engineers and it’s primary focus is space exploration. Or, he says, think of it this way: it’s NASA, and all that represents—a place where Voyager actually gets built, where discoveries and exploration actually happen. From mission launches, building new technologies, studying phenomenon in the sky, human space flight, the nitty-gritty work of soldering wires and hard core calculations to dreaming big dreams, JPL is “everything space exploration.”

For fun, you might like to visit jpl.nasa.gov. Like many websites, it has a mission tab, but, of course, JPL’s is literal: Kepler, Magellan, Mars Orbiter, Voyager 1 and 2. More than 100 missions, each with a description, a launch date and a target, some targets are specific—solar wind, asteroid Vesta, Mars—and others are more general: The Universe, for instance.

For Gaudi, both appointments are an honor, an opportunity and also the next logical step in his career. But he feels strongly aware of how lucky he is to be alive at this time of technological advances and to be able to make whatever small progress he can towards answering big questions about the universe. “These answers are not out of reach,” he says, “nor are they only for certain people.” He hopes this is an inspiration to others. “Everyone can contribute to exploration,” he says.

For any reporter, “dumb questions” are a tool of the trade, used to bypass preconceptions and misconceptions, plus, they yield the best quotes. But some of the questions that came to mind for Scott Gaudi I feared were downright idiotic. But, as it turns out, he’s cool with Star Trek references. So one of those dumb question was: Were looking for life as we know it on earth, are we looking for life as we dont know it? Or in Star Trek shorthand: If a planet were inhabited by hortas, would we even know?

Gaudi’s answer: “It’s hard, right? The classic example is if I ask you to describe a dog you could probably do it, if I asked you to describe a not-dog, what would you say? We can imagine alternate forms of life, we can write down requirements for what life means—though even defining life is difficult—but silicon-based life…life that uses ammonia as a solvent instead of water…I think the first step is to try to imagine if that life is even plausible, and researchers here are trying to do that. It’s important to keep our minds open and it’s not that we don’t understand that life might be very, very different than what it is on earth, it’s just that if we want to make any progress we have to have a specific goal in mind. So, for instance, Europa, Jupiter’s moon, shows evidence of an underground ocean, so we’ll likely look there for some form of bacterial life.”

Lastly, I asked: While he’s excited to find other life, there are people who fear such a discovery and its unknown consequences. Does he understand this fear? Or in any way share it?

No.

“The idea that life arose elsewhere gives a profound meaning to the question of Why are we here? Even if it’s microbes, we are not alone,” he says. “The universe is so rich. If we do find life in the next few years, it certainly means that life is abundant, and if life is abundant, doesn’t it just make the universe a much more interesting place? I can’t imagine being afraid of discovery of any kind. Certainly not discovery of life.”

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

Photo Credits: “Artist’s impression of exoplanets everywhere,” ESO M. Kornmesser, creative commons;  “Artist illlustration of HAT-P-11b passing in front of its star,” NASA/JPL-Caltech   

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