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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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[by Kendra Hovey]

What does it really take to be ready for the TEDx stage? For Rich Bowers this is both a practical question useful to those with TED/TEDx ambitions, and a philosophical one: how is it that we create ideas, then shape, scale, and share them?

The question so intrigued the videographer and TEDster (once upon a time—as in pre-Chris Anderson—Bowers even attended TED), he set out to document it. For three months last year he followed TEDxColumbus speakers Jan Allen and Naomi Stanford on their journey to the TEDx stage. The result is his new documentary, “The Talk Emerges.”

The video is a labor of love. Bowers tends to devote himself to one of these almost every year, somehow finding the time while also operating a design and production company. Though many of his previous independent projects focus on musicians, they all share a similar fascination with the creative process:

“Humans can make things up out of nothing,” he says. “A lot of it is crap, but some of it is good. Humans have also figured out how to edit—to pick the good from the crap.”

And all Bowers wants to know is: “How does all that happen?”

“The Talk Emerges,” then, is one more opportunity, as he says, “to look deep into the pool where things originate . . . and perhaps watch something good come out of it.”

It is also, Bowers hopes, a tool for potential speakers and one that will put some substance behind the oft-heard, but abstract description: it’s a lot of work. He hopes, too, that those who enjoy TED and TEDx will appreciate even more the care and craftsmanship behind the experience they have come to love.

In “The Talk Emerges,” Bowers devotes much of his running time (70 mins.) to interviews, as each speaker shapes her idea and performance, and truly digests the impact of the TED requirements. “I cannot emphasize enough how gutsy Jan and Naomi were to do this,” he says, adding, “their willingness to share the good ideas, the missteps, the angst, the fun, and their own personal growth is a huge contribution to the TEDx tradition.”

So, after 40 hours of prep, research, and filming, plus weeks of editing, what wisdom about creating a successful TED talk can Rich Bowers now share?

  • First, take the challenge seriously, he says. A TED Talk is a commitment.
  • Second, in the best talks, the speaker is immersed in the subject. Not just cares, emphasizes Bowers, but is invested: “Be sure you have that kind of investment.”
  • Third, you will surprise yourself, he says, and there will be “good surprises and less good surprises.” In other words, embrace candor.

And, to have the best time, he suggests, “absorb the mechanics.” For the time being, make it part of your persona, he says, “then enjoy yourself and enjoy sharing your important idea with an audience.”

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

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Events, Follow This, TEDTalks, TEDxColumbus, TEDxMarionCorrectional

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

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


TEDxMarionCorrectional: From Outside In

by Kendra Hovey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

 

[by Kendra Hovey]

If “Be Interesting” is on your to-do list today, you’re in luck, because Jessica Hagy’s blueprint for an interesting life is now in print (blue print, even). Described as a “small and quirky book with a large and universal message,” How to Be Interesting offers 200+ pages of insights, wisdoms and quips in pithy graphs, charts and diagrams.

Hagy previewed this project at the 2012 TEDxColumbus, sharing how she uses the tools of quantitative analysis to ponder some of the least quantifiable subjects—and also to poke some fun. It’s something she has been at for a long time now. In fact, her success today can be traced back to a doodle she made on a 3 x 5 card almost seven years ago.

“I was exhausted,” she says, “I was tired of working in a job that felt like an emotional dead-end, even if I was successful at it. I had no idea what to do with myself, and I was just doodling, trying to figure things out.”

That doodle became the inaugural post on Indexed, the blog she launched in 2006. There were more doodles on more 3 x 5 cards, more scans, more posts, and eventually Forbes came calling, as did others.

Hagy is originally from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. She was educated at Ohio University (BA) and Otterbein (MBA). After ten years in Columbus and one year in London, UK, she now lives in Seattle, which is where, between book tour travels, she took some time to chat with us over email about her new book and more.

 

 

Now that your work has been given some large-scale love, do you have any wisdom to share on having your talents recognized and rewarded?
The good: The internet is an equal opportunity playground, and you can do whatever you like out there. There is room for everyone to be successful online.

The bad: You’ll learn a lot about people by how they react when their friends succeed. Not everybody is going to be happy about your happiness, and that’s really gruesome to accept and process.

The ugly: It takes years of work and thought and learning to be perceived as an overnight success. Read all you can by as many people as you can (even people you don’t agree with or even like) and tinker a lot—trial and error can lead to all sorts of great stuff eventually, but you have to get through a lot of tough trials and embarrassing errors first.

You started out with a simple and straightforward format, the 3 x 5 card, is that still your initial medium?
It is for the blog [Indexed] but anymore I’m hired to do a lot of content that doesn’t fit so easily into that standardized format. Essays and animations and strategy things—I am a creative mercenary and change formats to fit what needs done instead of just repeating what’s been done because it’s the easiest route.

I imagine life is busier now, are you sticking with your regular gigs—Indexed, Forbes, etc?
I work for a handful of steady clients (like Forbes) and I am constantly taking on new projects, so yep, really busy. Being online, every morning I check my inbox, there’s a new connection or opportunity or bit of info that can change the way I work and think—it’s never the same day twice.

If there comes a time when Indexed feels “done” for you, how do you think you will know?
Right now it’s a healthy creative habit, making a little chart out to start out the morning. There might be a time when I want to sign off the internet and go become a tulip farmer or a clay thrower or something, but only time will tell. For now, I’ll keep doodling.

What was the experience of giving a TEDx Talk like for you?
It seems that these days, no matter what your profession, you have to be able to spin your work into a TED talk. It’s like toastmasters became a prerequisite for everybody from astronomers to chainsaw sculptors. “Of course I have a power point presentation for you, I’m a champion tap-dancing fishmonger, after all!”

The TED brand exudes (and demands in return) a calmly extroverted, upper middle-class, tech-driven business-casual optimism. So much other published content and so many other conferences get created to reflect the glow of TED’s trademarked crimson that you cannot escape the TED-curated Zeitgeist. And so I weave that knowledge into my powerpoint presentations, like a good little tap-dancing fishmonger.

Is there a “next” project on the horizon?
I’m working on a project with a lot of other cartoonists, a collection of cartoons all based on a shared image, a book of illustrated poetry, and lots more content for my current clients. I’m finishing up a manifesto in watercolors this week—it’ll be live in a month or so.

Lastly, any thoughts to share on how to survive, perhaps even thrive, as a writer during this particularly challenging moment in history?


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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


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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

At TEDxColumbus, Michael Bongiorno led us down to the subway, up to the train tracks, across the bridge and inside the cloverleaf so we could see what we usually don’t: the residual and overlooked spaces of urban life. He not only got us to look, but also to re-imagine:

What could this be that it isn’t today?

Ask this question and an abandoned mill can be a concert hall and a BMX track, a silo a scuba tank, and a city can be more than “good enough,” it can be great—healthy, vibrant, exemplary. Columbus, says the architect, principal at the DesignGroup and all-around civic enthusiast, is positioned to be that city. From his campaign to have Columbus designated a UNESCO City of Design to his contributions to the cityscape—the Grange Insurance Audubon Center is just one example—Bongiorno’s been busy turning potential into reality.

In the months following his TEDxTalk, the idea of the “Overlooked” has picked up some steam; it will be the theme of Design Weeks 2013, the city festival, part of idUS, promoting and celebrating local design (the “s” added to reflect what is now a month, rather than week, long event). Also, in late January, the Columbus Museum of Art unveiled plans for the final phase of its renovation project. The expansion and added wing is the work of the DesignGroup, with Bongiorno as Lead Designer and, when necessary, Lead Duck. (…more on that below.)

Eager to get a closer look at the Museum project and also to find out more about the infusion of energy around the overlooked, we recently interviewed Michael Bongiorno. He is originally from Brooklyn—“not the Brooklyn of hipsters and irony,” as we know from his talk, “but the Brooklyn of The Warriors”—so, first, we asked him about his connection to Columbus…

“I have lived in Columbus for about 21 years and I’m not leaving anytime soon. I love it here. I came here because of work and because it was a growing university town.”


“Overlooked,” the theme of your TEDx Talk, is also the theme of Design Weeks 2013 (which you co-founded). Can you tell us how that decision came about?  
Actually, I can’t take credit for making that connection. My wife and Design Week co-founder, Sarah [Bongiorno] and one of my Design Week co-planners, Stephanie Hayward, both came up with the idea at the same time. Our core planning just started running with it…well, maybe jogging. The important thing to note is that Sarah and Stephanie both saw my TEDxTalk, were inspired by it, it ignited an idea in their minds, and they wanted to build upon it…which meant it truly embodied the notion of an “idea worth spreading.”

What will it mean, in terms of events, speakers, location, etc., to have “overlooked” as a theme?  First, without letting the cat entirely out of the bag, we are planning a Design Weeks signature program (similar to the Ideabook project) and asking participants to find overlooked spaces in Columbus and imagine possibilities for them.

In addition, we will be inviting collaborators to host their own events, posing the question: What does “overlooked” mean to you and how can you create an event or program that explores this idea? It could be the physical environments that I was describing in my TEDx talk or it could be about a topic important to a specific collaborator. Our definition of design is broader than just the physical environment: it could be about dealing with the lack of creative thinking in education, it could be about the public transportation void, it could be overlooked opportunities in food systems, etc. The goal is to create a dialogue that will lead to some change in what we feel is overlooked, neglected or wasted in our city, and by extension, all cities and communities.


And, now that it seems people will be looking at the overlooked, what does it mean to you, personally?  
Well, I hope that our citizens, and not just designers, will develop a critical eye toward their surroundings and not just take for granted that the man-made physical world they see around them has been thought through. I would like people to ask tougher questions, expect better than a passing grade, and teach themselves to see. I believe that once we achieve a level of collective awareness about what constitutes a quality environment we will actually achieve some sense of “culture,” in a civic sense. I know that sounds heady, but all great cities are self-aware. All it takes is higher expectations and asking the right question. Just good enough is never good enough for great places.


Can you give us an example of architecture within the city of Columbus that is better than “good enough?”  
I love the new Main Street bridge. It is innovative, exemplifies a boldness of gesture and simplicity of form, it makes circulation understandable and fun, and it provides dynamic vistas while crossing it and viewing it from afar. Simply put, the bridge is not just a way to get from point A to point B; it is an experience.

The Mayor caught a lot of flak for how much the bridge cost, but his unwavering support of this project, to me (as it should be for all of us), was a sign of an enlightened decision maker. Cities have always had and always will have other pressing budgetary constraints and priorities to contend with. But I would argue that great cities, cities we love to visit, have really strong self-identities, a sense of civic pride, a sense of place and know that investments must also be made in the quality of their physical environments – their people places. Great civic, business, and cultural leaders who know the difference between an investment in quality over mediocrity, and have the conviction to make it happen, are what makes memorable cities. Great design does not start with great designers; it starts with great clients.


Speaking of clients, tell us about the Museum project. First off, what is your role and were you involved in Phase I and II, as well?  
I am the lead designer and also a principal in the firm. I would be remiss if I did not mention that I lead a fantastic and talented team that I could brag about all day long. Our firm was not involved with Phase 1 and 2, as those were pure restoration projects done by a firm that specializes in preservation. Although we were well aware of those projects as they were happening given our close relationship with the museum.


Does the idea of the overlooked play out in any way in this project?
Great question. I think the museum is overlooked, in a sense, physically and culturally. While it is a beautiful building, the historic structure is rather small and understated in comparison to museums in similar sized cities. It is also seemingly impenetrable. Therefore they struggle with physical presence: “We could be a library, we could be a mausoleum…”

Physically, they are practically hidden behind the looming mass of the State Auto insurance Company building when approaching from the east. You drive past it before you even know it’s there, which is a problem when you consider the volume of visitor traffic that exits I-71 at Broad heading into Downtown. As part of the expansion project, they wanted to announce themselves to Broad Street, hence the siting of the building in relation to Broad and our creation of “cinematic facades” to engage the public realm on both Broad and Gay.

Culturally, the museum struggles, as many cultural institutions do, with maintaining their audience and remaining relevant to them. It was CMA’s stated desire to create a place where people from all walks of life could come and just “hang out.” Hence, a lot of semi-public outdoor space. The store and café are in prominent locations relative to the entry and surrounding neighborhood. The building design, then, is a reflection of the museum’s ambition to be more visible, relevant, and connected to the community as a meeting point between art, the public and the physical city. In doing so, they are capturing an audience that may be overlooked and that may have overlooked the museum in the past.


Can you share what thrills you the most about this project?
I have both personal feelings about it and a broader appreciation for the cultural implications of a project like this. I felt the burden of responsibility to create something dynamic and of its time, while being sensitive to the nuances of the particularities of the local context. I will say, with a fair amount of confidence, that it will be a really cool addition to the city!

I believe its design is international in sensibility and quality and will serve as a high watermark for great locally produced design. Raising the credibility of local design talent in the eyes of our largest institutions is something a number of designers have been toiling at, maddening and thanklessly, for a long time; I hope this project pushes us that much further along our journey and that our client base will stop reaching for the coasts to get what they can get right here in Columbus.


Are there elements to the design you are especially proud of?  
I think it will start a lot of debate, in fact, it already has and I believe all good architecture should create dialogue. That is the point of living in a dynamic city, and not in a sensory deprivation tank lined with brick wallpaper.

There are so many fun and interesting things about the design that it is hard to name a favorite. Materially, the pre-patinated copper skin on the upper gallery of the building is going to be sublimely beautiful and something Columbus has never seen before. While copper is a durable and traditional material we employed it in a novel way. We have created a unique feature we are calling “cinematic facades” that connect the galleries and special events spaces to the garden and surrounding neighborhood, engaging the public realm in a way the museum has never been able to before. I believe the new entry court and the sculpture garden designed by MKSK is going to be a community jewel. The museum’s new café will open out onto the terrace via a large glass wall that can open fully in good weather.


And what about challenges?
Just how far out to Broad Street the addition should encroach was the single most polarizing conversation on the project. A good number of stakeholders were mortified that we would extend anywhere past the original historic structure. In order to allay everyone’s fears, Museum director Nannette Maciejunes asked us to help articulate the rationale. We created sightline studies that showed how the State Auto Insurance building would block the view of the addition before the addition blocked the view of the central and most important part of the original museum building. That wasn’t enough proof, so one hot summer day we gathered everyone on Broad Street. I asked them to line up behind me and, like a family of ducks, we walked single file while I narrated the approach: “Okay, right about now you are seeing the upper gallery cantilever, and next you are seeing, etc.” It must have made for a strange scene. The good news is that most came away convinced of the location, others went away still unconvinced; but this is a valuable lesson for any architect: you can’t make everyone happy and you will go insane trying.

 

A video introduction to the Museum project can be seen here.  To read Bongiorno’s case for Columbus as a UNESCO city of design, check out his columbusunderground article. And to learn more about the two major organizations behind Design Week visit The Center for Architecture and Design and AIA Columbus.

CMA images care of DesignGroup, Ideabook image care of DesignWeek

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


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Follow This, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

The game is over. The parsing and commentary might last a day or two more, maybe three, and then we’ll move on. So before the national conversation around the Super Bowl wraps up, there’s something important to acknowledge: That national conversation has broadened, and it’s a direct result of the work of people such as TEDxColumbus speaker Theresa Flores and the many others who are bringing awareness to the issue of human trafficking.

Flores’ organization S.O.A.P was at the Super Bowl, as usual, working to reach those forced into the sex trade. But also, as articles in the Times Picayune and the Huffington Post suggest, human trafficking—a reality at these large-scale events—is entering into the usual chatter around the Super Bowl. It’s a small part of the Super Bowl talk, but that it is being mentioned, at all, is significant.

Also significant is the shift in language. After Flores’ 2011 talk, the word “prostitution” pretty much left my vocabulary. It’s not the right word for what really happens. That’s just me, of course, but all around, at least in the media, the word “prostitution” is giving way to the more accurate term “human trafficking.”

It’s no small thing to change how we talk.

In a post from last year, FT shared some news from Flores. More has accumulated since. 2012 saw the release of “The Girl Next Door,” a 25-minute film based on the life of Theresa Flores. Directed by Andrea Picco while a student at New York Film Academy, the documentary has made the rounds at various festivals, including the Women’s Independent Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was also an Official Selection at Indianapolis’ Heartland Festival. Last month it was screened here in Columbus as part of the Ohio Liberators Awards, and this very week it will show in Amagansett, New York in the Hamptons. Back in January, TED Blog included Flores’ TEDxColumbus talk in a collection of “5 brave personal stories of domestic abuse.”

[We should also mention that 2012 presenter Gary Wenk was featured in the December TEDx blog post: Eat this TEDx Talk: 7 talks on food and its future.]

And one last bit of recent news: Word has it that Flores is currently working with a European publisher to release her book, The Slave Across the Street, to audiences overseas.

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

 

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Follow This, TEDxColumbus, TEDxWomen, Viewing Events

[by Kendra Hovey]

I’ll start with some facts:

  • TEDxWomen is for everyone. It is, explains host Pat Mitchell, “for a world that needs the full participation of women and their ideas, their experiences, their compassion and convictions, their activism and their artistry.”
  • Women and men speak at TEDxWomen.
  • Women and men attend TEDxWomen, though, to date, women in much greater numbers.
  • The talks at TEDxWomen are as universally relevant as the talks at TED.
  • 15,000 people watched TEDxWomen 2012 at various live viewing events across 53 countries.
  • “The Space Between”—this year’s theme—refers to the gray, the and, the full spectrum that lives between polarities, be they black/white, rich/poor, work/family, right/left, male/female…

Next, some history:

  • TEDWomen launched in 2010 as a TED conference.
  • The x was added in 2011. Because of the large number of local TEDxWomen events that sprouted alongside TEDWomen, the TEDx community was thought to be a more logical home.
  • Talks from the past two conferences have been viewed 20 million times and translated into 50 languages.

Now, an opinion:

  • TEDxWomen is fast becoming my favorite TED-related event.

Like TED, TEDxWomen blows my mind, captivates, educates, stirs and moves me. It also has the benefits built into TEDx, namely, access to the fascinating nooks and crannies of life that (big)TED is sometimes too big to see.

By the same token, TEDxWomen shares the realities of TEDx: less time, energy, resources—less rigor—and as a result there are some talks that don’t quite hit their mark.

But where TEDxWomen beats all is the connecting. Interaction is part of the TED platform—if you attended TEDxColumbus you might remember introducing yourself to your neighbors and lunching with five (now former) strangers.

At the TEDxColumbus TEDxWomen event, this element is seamless and unprompted.

TEDxColumbusWomen 2012For whatever reason, people tend to bring and express their full selves—not a compartmentalized professional one. As a result, discussions get rich and interesting real fast. In short, it’s fun.

It also makes perfect sense for TED. Watch almost any TEDTalk and invariably the subject percolated and took shape out of this inseparable mix of passion, personal and professional.

But exactly how this ease in expression and connection I see at TEDxWomen happens, I can’t say. And how to tap into it on a larger scale . . . I wish I knew.

This question—how to scale-up?—came up again, in fact, almost every time a speaker shared yet another project, idea, model, theory or good work.

One particularly poignant example is the counter-terrorism efforts of Edit Schlaffer, Archana Kapoor and Arshi Saleem Hashmi that enabled Pakistani and Indian women, both, to move from victimhood, and the defaults of fear and hate, to agency, understanding and empathy.

 

Some quotes:

“The loss of a son, no matter whose son, is the loss of a son.”

 

“Terrorists know how to use the power of women, why do not counter-terrorists?”

 

 

 

Another great quote from the day comes from John Gerzema, who said:

“Femininity is the Operating System of 21st century progress.”

Maybe you want to pause…go back, read that again. It’s quite an interesting thing to say, isn’t it?


It is the basic idea of what he calls the Athena Doctrine. Surveying as many as 60,000 across the globe, Gerzema found that character traits classified as “feminine” were rated as highly important for leadership, success, morality and happiness. “Feminine values,” he states, “are ascendant.” I, personally, would love to see what more empathy, respect, patience, expressiveness and flexibility, among other traits, would do for the world. I hope he is right. But I would also like to see research on the correlation between what people say they want and what people actually do.
TEDxColumbusWomen 2012
Four reasons (and there are undoubtedly more) to watch Eboo Patel’s talk are:

  1. it’s a great trajectory story (how I got from there to here);
  2. Patel speaks about faith in a way meaningful to believer, non-believer and all that’s in-between;
  3. if you don’t already know about Dorothy Day, you will; and
  4. trust me, you don’t want to miss out on meeting his grandmother.

Two speakers, Angela Patton and Shabana Basij-Rasikh, share particularly poignant stories about the importance of fathers.

[When the Taliban threatened Basij-Rasikh’s father with death if he didn’t stop his daughter from going to school, he said this: “Kill me now if you wish, but I will not ruin my daughter’s future.”]


The target of a massive online misogyny and harassment campaign, Anita Sarkeesian’s appalling, eventually hopeful, but still appalling, story is essential viewing, and her analysis increasingly relevant.

The talks I mention are just a few of many that struck a chord. TEDxWomen covered a range of topics from transcendental meditation, computer programming, street art, autism, the “war” on obesity, the freedom of a wheelchair, the benefits of getting lost, and more—plus those still to be discovered as I watch the last 20 or so online.

One presenter, the explorer and “way-finder” Elizabeth Lindsey, is concerned that we have come to live our lives by “fickle criteria.” “We are following the wrong stars,” she says, “we’re being sold a lifestyle when what we want most is a life.”

To continue her metaphor, one inspiring through-line in this year’s TEDxWomen is example after example after example of people following different stars—and the innovative and positive destinations they create. And, from 17-year-old Brittany Wengar to CEO Charlotte Beers, one thing seems clear: Counter to what women, at least American women, have been told—to check their gender at the workplace door (and men, too, to check their femininity)—these stars shine brighter when we tap into and value the full range of who we are.

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

Photos from TEDxWomen by John Lash c/o The Paley Center for Media;  Photos from viewing event by Allyson Kuentz c/o TEDxColumbus

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Follow This, Speakers, TEDxColumbus

[by Kendra Hovey]

In her TEDxTalk, Dr. Laura Hill revealed a breakthrough that counters not just conventional wisdom, but human instinct. For anyone whose life has been touched by an eating disorder, what Hill has to say is essential. It’s also essential for anyone who is interested in how we look at problems and how we solve them.

Fascinated, a bit stunned, and full of questions after her October talk, I knew Follow This would soon be following-up on Dr. Hill. But before I share our conversation, a quick review:

According to Hill, just as things go haywire in the pancreas when diabetics eat, things go haywire in the brain when anorexics eat. Food sets in motion a psychological storm both painful and noisy—and you can see that storm on an fMRI. Hunger and taste centers remain dull. Dopamine is flat, the amygdala gets agitated and the decision-maker, the prefrontal cortex, is confused. Meanwhile, the area of the brain responsible for our sense of our external self, or physical body, is showing a disturbance “off the charts.”

So…the patient who insists she is not hungry, that the food doesn’t taste right, that the day is easier without it, and “eating is bad for me,” has—it seems—been right all along. This is extraordinary.

It’s also unworkable, or so one would think. Food is not optional. Yet, this flip in accepted thinking is helping a number of Hill’s clients. Out the window goes all the talk of enjoying food, the body’s desire for food, and attempts to normalize the diet, and in its place food has become medicine. Just as an endocrinologist prescribes insulin, Dr. Hill prescribes meals, working with each client to find the dosage that works. What she says now is: Take your medicine, it won’t taste good and there will be side effects, but it will keep you alive.

This discovery is life-changing for those with anorexia, as well as for their loved ones. It also reveals something interesting about how all our brains work. It took a really advanced and expensive technology to ask a simple question: What if the patients are saying something that is actually true?

Of course, to seriously consider this, one has to override personal experience and something basic to human survival. I don’t mean to oversimplify—I, for instance, am not going to go on a search for the aliens that are speaking to my aunt through her microwave—but when facing a problem, especially a particularly intractable one, it’s not a bad reminder to ask what, and who, we believe and don’t believe, as well as, what is the question we are not asking?

I Had No Idea!
Most of us know about anorexia, even have one or two educated opinions about it, so when I spoke to Dr. Hill I had to ask, Why hadn’t we heard about this before?

“It’s just now coming into the public domain,” Hill answered. Her TEDxTalk is a start, along with the new Family Eating Disorder Manual. Published in August with Hill as the lead author along with colleague David Dagg, it includes two chapters on the neurobiology of eating disorders.

The research, though, has been on-going for quite some time, but 2009 was a seminal year. That’s when Walter Kaye of UC San Diego published the article that, as Hill describes it, “introduced and set in course a new direction in our understanding of anorexia nervosa.” Over time, more studies added more information, and Hill has been working with Kaye’s team to interpret and chart the results and “pilot” new approaches to treatment. Hill says it’s been gratifying to have the patients part of the solution: “I would take the results to them and say ‘it looks like at this stage of the illness you may not be registering taste’ and the client’s are going ‘uh…yeah’—well,” she pauses, “we had never thought to ask the clients that clinically.”

As the neurobiology became clearer, Hill had her own I-had-no-idea moment. When she would share this feeling with her clients, “they would just start crying” she recounts, “and they would say, ‘finally, finally somebody is understanding—now, can you tell my family?’ ”

 

So Is The Media Off The Hook?
If eating disorders are neurobiological, does this effect the prevailing theory that they are sociological—tied to media portrayals and body image? Yes, says Hill, but not how you might think: “The biology actually helps us to understand the sociology and the psychology.” With eating disorders the disturbance in the brain is so great that decision-making centers can be almost incapacitated, which increases vulnerability to social messages—and the social messages are invariably to diet and to be skinny. “Somebody looks to the external to help guide them,” explains Hill, “only to find that the external is helping to make them sicker.”

 

What About Psychological Explanations Related To Control?
To family members witness to the rigidity and pickiness, anorexia can sure look like an expression of a controlling personality. “In fact,” says Hill, “it may be a 180—I’m so out of control, I’m literally eating blind.” And just as a blind person perhaps counts steps and taps with a cane or is guided by a dog, a person with anorexia has to tap their way through eating. “That’s when the light bulb really went off for me,” says Hill, “when I saw what was going on in the brain, I understood it’s not at all about being controlling, it’s about trying to get some control.”

From there, it was a short step to another realization: “Let’s use what appears to be the problem and make it part of the solution.” Taping into the rigidity and the patient’s existing rituals around eating, she and her team created healthy rituals. “We work out a plan—Plan A, Plan B, Plan C—they eat it, get used it, they don’t have to decide or question how many bites, and we find their anxiety comes down and the volume of the noise in their head may come down too.”

 

About That Noise In Their Head…
Hill sampled a recording of that noise during her talk. Asked how she created it, she was quick to first credit her co-author David Dagg for the idea, then explained how she has notebooks full of her clients’ descriptions (“overwhelmed,” “cloudy,” “vicious,” “loud,” “louder”) and phrases (“Fat, fat, fat;” “you stupid idiot;” “what to write with?” “I can’t handle that;” “I’m so full;” “I don’t feel anything”). Her clients would critique each version, until eventually the recording closely mirrored their experience. She’s currently creating a similar recording for her clients with binge eating disorder. “They tell me it sounds differently,” she says.

 

Bulimia & Other Eating Disorders
Hill shares that there are not yet many fMRIS for bulimia and ever fewer for binge eating. fMRIS are expensive; cohorts need to be small. Anorexia presents similarly, but bulimia, says Hill, is “heterogeneous,” so that what proves true for one cohort may not extend to all the various presentations of the illness. Nonetheless, Hill is working on a similar brain map for bulimia but, she says, “there are many gaps.”

 

Changing Minds
For 20 years, cognitive behavioral therapy has shown to be a valid form of treatment for bulimia, but there has not yet been one well-researched, single, effective treatment for anorexia. Says Hill: “We kept assuming that when re-fed, patients would feel better and get on with life and we kept seeing relapse and we didn’t understand exactly why.” [Relapse rates are high; anorexia also has the highest death rate of all mental illnesses.]

This suggests that should Hill’s pilot approach prove medically valid, physicians might be quick to adopt it. Hill fully expects that patients will be educating their doctors. “As they text and tweet about their own experiences,” she says, “it’s not going to take long for this to surface.”

 

What Say The Naysayers?
Neurobiology changes the paradigm so much, initially there’s been “a bit of a wait-a-minute-wait-a-minute reaction,” says Hill. “But,” she continues, “for 30 years we’ve known this is bio-psycho-social phenomenon, it’s just that we’ve looked at the biology as a consequence, not that it might be a contributing factor of the illness or the extent to which it is actually helping to maintain the illness.”

 

Which Came First?
Whether the neurobiology is the product of starvation or the cause, Hill says, “the jury’s still out.” In the acute stage when body mass is low, biology is clearly a driver of the disease. But looking at those who have recovered and maintained a stable body weight for over a year, some start to get back the ability to taste. Some don’t. Even those that do don’t experience pleasure in eating.

 

Will This Breakthrough Advance New Medicines?
“The field is looking at medications,” says Hill, “we have seen, though, that the SSRIs [commonly prescribed] don’t even touch the disturbance in the brain.” They are searching for ones that will bring it down, but, she adds, “bless their hearts they get it both ways—meds have side effects.” Along with continued 3D imaging, genetic-based testing may uncover new avenues for developing effective medicines.

 

After TEDxColumbus
Asked what kind of response her talk is getting she says, “It started from the moment I stepped off the stage.” A father came up to her tears thanking her for helping him understand his daughter. A woman who had anorexia told her that she has always had to eat the same meal and that this has always embarrassed her. “But now,” she said to Dr. Hill, “I think it’s okay, it’s as okay as anyone.”

Hill has been careful about bringing these new findings to the public. “It’s been my caution because I didn’t want to interpret anything erroneously,” she explains. But, “the beauty in this,” she says, “is people discovering—when they hear this and say, I had no idea!”

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

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