by Kendra Hovey
If one event is a happening, two events are a coincidence, and three hints of a trend, what is five? Because five is the number of organizations in Columbus that have recently hosted an internal TEDx or TEDx-like event.
- Glimcher held a TED-like session inside their annual meeting.
- Alliance Data tapped into the TED format for a summit of their top 350 leaders, and then again at an internal conference for their Human Resources division.
- The BRUTx event at OSU’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science was everything TEDx except the name (and even that came close).
- Both Battelle and Cardinal Health are official TED license holders. Battelle has hosted two internal TEDx events. Cardinal Health, one. Both expect to host more in the future.
Four companies. One medical center. Plus TED now issues a specific license for inside events at corporations and institutions. It seems TEDxCorporate has become “a thing.”
From curation and coaching to licensing and volunteer coordination, TEDx is no small undertaking, and because of restrictions specific to the corporate TEDx license, talks cannot be shared publicly or used for marketing purposes. The benefits are strictly internal. Yet, more and more companies are adopting the platform. The motivation is the same as at any TED event: to share ideas. But the people at Battelle and Cardinal Health also talk about skill-building, creative outlets, fostering connections, inspiring collaboration, and energizing the workplace.
Plus, there’s something to the TED brand.
It connotes fun, fascination, and innovation—“distinguishing it from other types of events,” says Eileen Lehmann, director of internal communications at Cardinal Health. Lehmann co-organized her company’s event with Shelley Bird, executive vice president in the office of the CEO. Bird was inspired to pilot a TEDx for employees after attending TEDxColumbus. “Storytelling is critical to communicating ideas,” she says, “and the TEDx experience helped us to hone that skill internally.”
With 14 talks and performances and an audience of about 100, TEDxCardinalHealth was organized around the theme Plunge Pivot Pounce. Topics included brain surgery, data mining, and leadership, among others. Some talks shared personal journeys and crises; others highlighted employee talents. LaChandra Baker wowed her colleagues with a rap performance. A few months later, Baker took the stage again at TEDxColumbusWomen. Not the only way the event has legs, a video of one of the talks—on decision making—has become a staple in leadership meetings and, says Lehmann, “our CEO is now getting into the act.” George Barrett will be one of the speakers at Disruption: TEDxColumbus 2105 on November 20th.
Overall, reactions ranged from impressed to “life changing,” says Lehmann who herself was moved by the emotional impact it had, and also impressed, as she says, “by how smart and talented our employees are.” Some practical advice from Lehmann: Good video production and a great editor are key; rehearsal day is just as important as the event; and because it takes time for those unfamiliar with TEDx to catch on, an energetic group of volunteers will make all the difference.
At Battelle, TEDx has definitely caught on. Between their first event, Be Inspired, and their second, Breaking Through, attendance tripled, says Alexa Konstantinos, curator of both events. A scientist by training and now marketing director for medical business, Konstantinos, over her 20-year tenure, has seen the variety of “magic-making” at Battelle. “That may sound ridiculous,” she explains, “but the science and technology of the future is pretty magical.”
Looking for an outlet to share that magic within the Battelle community, TEDx was a perfect fit. Their talks tend towards the technological, she says, but what they all share is passion, and it’s not always a professional passion. At the most recent TEDxBattelle, one employee talked about his off-the-clock involvement in a science program for children, where kids as young as five are examining fossils and, those that find something new, get named on a scientific paper about the finding.
Other talks have focused on design in everyday life and predictive analytics in health care, meaning, in critical care situations, using data to predict what will happen to a person from a health standpoint in the next 12 to 24 hours.
Konstantinos says, “Curating TEDxBattelle has been an immensely rewarding experience personally.” As far as the value to Battelle, she echoes what others have said about TED’s unique format for idea-sharing and communication, but what really sets it apart, she says, is its democratic and grassroots character. These are two words not commonly associated with corporate culture or TED, which is often seen as elitist. Explains Konstantinos, “it is a group project, nothing is done in isolation, it is an interactive, collaborative, connecting kind of event.” A mixture of invited talks and open-call, it’s “inclusive,” she says, and, with an innovative bent, the content is “fresh.”
“If you do it right it’s grassroots,” she says, “and when it’s grassroots, it will be what people need it to be at that time—that’s the magic of TEDx.”
In a few weeks at TEDxColumbusWomen 2015 among other thoughtful speakers and performers, we’ll be showcasing the Inside/Out Choir, a joint project of the Tapestry Program, a therapeutic community at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, and The Harmony Project. While you may have seen them perform once or twice at other events, we wanted to help raise their voices even broader.
But two things happened recently which has led me to make a special, small appeal to our community.
First, we decided to host a tampon drive at the TEDx event on May 28th. The Free The Tampon campaign has been featured recently in the New York Times and the writer of those stories inspired us to have an actual drive, to bring the social awareness to a simple, actionable step. But we hadn’t yet decided the beneficiary.
Then I went to ORW to visit the women in the choir we will be showcasing. I remember hearing Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman’s moth recording how she was given free tampons during her stay in prison. So during my visit, I asked Tanya, the woman sitting next to me, how she accessed sanitary products.
“Everyone gets free pads. But we have to pay for tampons,” she said.
I asked how much they were, not expecting the rapid response.
“They are $2.31 for a box of 10. And they are the cardboard applicator Tampax brand.”
She continued, “Most women don’t have a lot of family support. And the little money they make at their job isn’t enough to cover them.”
No matter how you feel about the crimes these women may have committed, I would hope you agree with me that they have the right to access the most basic of sanitary products, which in turn is access to basic human dignity.
When I asked the director of the Tapestry program if it would be acceptable to donate tampons. She said people donate goods all the time – but not often tampons.
The women of the Tapestry program who are also in the choir will be watching the livestream of our event. And we’ll be enjoying their song and talent without the chance to tell them thank you in person, like we will the other speakers.
So please help show our appreciation by bringing a box of tampons (or 2!) so that we may send the choir a very little gesture of appreciation in return. If you cannot attend and would like to contribute a box, you can have them delivered to RESOURCE/AMMIRATI, 343 North Front Street, Cols 43215 before May 27. And there’s nothing keeping you from dropping off any supply straight to the guard desk at ORW.
– Ruth Milligan
by Kendra Hovey
If you didn’t see it, you might have heard about it: First standing O of the day . . . 80,290 views online . . . featured on WOSU TV’s TEDxColumbus special . . . The talk, Austin Channell’s A Culture of Obsession: Why taking choir kept me from being valedictorian, was even retweeted by preeminent chorale composer Eric Whitacre—making Channell, for one hot moment, a hero among Central Ohio choir directors.
It all made for an interesting senior year of high school for Austin Channell, who never expected to be juggling his class schedule with an appearance on All Sides with Ann Fisher or piggybacking a college visit onto a speaking engagement in Virginia.
Now a high school graduate, Channell finished third in his class, but was not a valedictorian. As he says, “that would have been awkward.” In the fall, he’ll attend Vanderbilt University, where he plans to study civil engineering.
His TEDx talk, to quickly refresh, grew out of a real life quandary: He could take choir in high school, get an A and, as a result, lower his GPA. Or he could sign up for study hall and end up with a higher GPA. As absurd as this sounds, it’s also built into the educational grading system. As Channell deftly points out, it is possible for a student to “succeed in more areas and be penalized for it.”
It’s not that he had some great ambition to be a valedictorian, as he says, “It was the principle of the thing.” And the problem is bigger than just some nonsensical grade point system. At issue, is the larger and more complicated matter of how we choose to define and measure success, and the resulting effects on college-entrance, and the self-esteem, health and well-being of our youth.
For students, it can lead to some silly scheduling maneuvers—going to art class while officially signed up for study hall. But if college is going to be in the picture, GPA is vital, and even as current business-speak extols the virtues of failure while the social sciences send out alerts about the dangers of perfectionism, students know exactly the fine line they have to walk.
If an A in a non-AP class can reduce GPA or just one B can plummet a class rank from one to one hundred and something, an example Channell shares, why take a risk? Or follow an interest? Maybe the student truly is that much less smart or less studious than before the B, either way, at many colleges, her application’s gone from the top of the pile to the slush pile. Grading—how it varies between districts, schools and teachers and what exactly it measures—is not just a complicated puzzle for administrators. Channell is telling us it’s having real effects, adverse effects, on real lives.
Yet not every high schooler with something important to say, says it on the TEDx stage. In fact, in the history of TEDxColumbus there’ve been exactly two: Austin Channell and Meagan Jones. Channell’s journey began courtesy of his public school, where a posted flyer and a nudge from a teacher led to an internship with TEDxYouth. Working with Andy Aichele for two years, he helped plan, coach and stage manage the event. “We spent a lot of time at a lot of Paneras,” he says. As can happen when working with TED, the question pops up: “What would be your talk?” When Achiele would pose it, Channell, took it as idle musing, at least until the day he began “ranting” about his situation. As he recalls, “Andy said, ‘This is your talk,’ and I thought, ‘Yeah…it is.’ ”
Once he left the TEDxColumbus stage, it didn’t take long for the tweeting and sharing to start, as well as the dialogue and invitations to speak. He’s been interviewed on various news programs, shared versions of the talk at a school board meeting, at the Ohio Department of Education (twice) and, by invitation of a PTA, as far away as Falls Church, Virginia. The small city, essentially a suburb of DC, is in the wealthiest county in the U.S. and home to supposedly the best high school in the country (though public, admission is selective). In Falls Church, says Channell, “even the middle school librarian has an ivy league degree.” It was there, during the Q&A, that Channell was asked maybe the most heart-breaking question. It came from an 8th grader. To paraphrase, she asked, “What if I don’t feel so driven to succeed, but my parents want it and I don’t want to make them unhappy?”
This child’s question helps explain the strong response to Channell’s talk. Education is not just about student and teacher, but administrators, communities, society, says Channell, and the core relationship between parent and child. “We know education is a hot button issue,” he says, “some relate to what they see as an unfair system, some question how we assess learning, some defend the system, but for parents in particular, the effects on their children are really concerning—I know how hard it was on my own parents to witness the physical toll of my class schedule and academic stress.”
Another reason for the overwhelming response may just be that Austin Channell did a really good job. And were I to add “for his age” it’s not to put a qualifier on his abilities, but to acknowledge age is a factor. Though he doesn’t attempt to offer a solution, and while people are listening and talking no changes have yet been made (though his school board just announced it will be reviewing the valedictorian system), still in Channell’s TEDx talk there is hope. Because despite everything we have left the next generation to grapple with, if they still come out smart, articulate, principled and mature, there’s definitely hope.
Whether Channell agrees with this or not, he can’t deny that people are impressed with his public speaking abilities, because the reality is he gets asked about it all the time. He actually loves this question. He knows exactly where he learned stage presence and how to engage an audience, and he’s happy to share: “It’s theater,” he says, “It’s what the arts can do for you.”
Another question catches him more off-guard. The details vary each time, but it goes something like this: “Would you mind if we drove three hours from Pittsburg to interview you?” Or, “We can pay to fly you and your mom to Virginia, put you up in a hotel, give you a rental car, pay for your food and a travel stipend…would that be okay?” Recounting these today, he still sounds bemused: “It’s one of those questions people would ask, but I’m still not sure . . . who says no to this?”
If this whole experience has been a bit disorienting for Channell, it’s also been humbling and motivating. Amazed by how far and wide the talk has spread, he also wonders if maybe he should have put more into it—more than writing it during an 11th period study hall, he confesses. This concern comes from the perfectionist in him, but also from a real sense of responsibility.
He has no obligation but to go off and be a college student and pursue his interest in civil engineering. But that’s not how he’s feeling. “I don’t know what form it will take or what point in my life it will happen,” he says, but the issue is not behind him. By sheer coincidence, Vanderbilt is home to Peabody College, the best graduate school of education in the nation. He’s already made contact, though just out of curiosity. He does say that, in his mind, from civil engineering to education is not a huge leap. “Civil engineering is about creating and maintaining systems. Though more infrastructure related, it’s borderline policy,” he says. Plus, he’s never been one for purely technical pursuits, being more macro- than micro-focused.
The system of education is one of many things he’s looking forward to potentially exploring in college. But for the moment, he’s got his graveyard shift at a truck parts warehouse. Spending his summer laboring alongside mostly fulltime union workers, ”I put parts in boxes,” he says, “I close the box and put a shipping label on it.” He’s in it for the money—“I know I’ll be poor in college, but my goal is to be less poor in college”—but as a side benefit, he’s listened to a lot of audio books.
One night that audiobook was The Ghost Map about a cholera epidemic in 1854. “If you want to get strange looks from people, just listen to a description of someone suffering from cholera,” he says. When the guys around him asked what he was listening to, it blossomed into a group discussion about medical issues and the scientific process. “Turn it up,” someone suggested, and at 10:00 on a summer night instead of a muffled din of rap, metal and various podcasts, blaring inside this truck parts warehouse was a story about disease and sanitation in mid-19th century London, England. Yet another unexpected and interesting experience in what has been an unexpected and interesting year for Austin Channell.
[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.
[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:
- Why are you here (at TEDxCbus)?
- What are your talents?
- Has Columbus provided you the opportunity to share your talents?
543—almost 75% of attendees—responded. Here’s what they said:
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.”
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.
Here is the session schedule for TEDxColumbus: OUT THERE this Friday, October 11.
Livestream link: https://new.livestream.com/tedx/Columbus
Session 1: 9 am – 10:30am
Scott Gaudi, Ali Rezai, Ly Apelado, Joe Simkins, Michelle Alexander
Session 2: 11am – 12:30pm
David Bromwich, Chris Domas, Susan Nittrouer, Kaweh Mansouri, Mohamed Ali
Session 3: 1:30 – 2:30 pm
Tobin-Wilcox, Nancy Kramer, Jess Mathews, Chris Fraser, Stephanie Hughes, Miriam Abbott, Josh Hara
Session 4: 2:50 pm – 4:00 pm
Castros, Dax Blake, Tom Knotek, Lori Moffett, Jim Fussell, Gabrielle Burton, Decker Moss
It’s our fifth year. How did THAT happen?
And while we aren’t going to have someone jump out of plane to celebrate, we are proud to announce what might be our most ambitious line up in the short history of TEDxColumbus. Join us on October 11 from 9-4 (with happy hour until 5) at COSI to witness this collection of thinkers, researchers, provocateurs, rainmakers, entertainers and game-changers, all of whom, in their own right, are doing things truly OUT THERE. Come join a dynamic crowd of curious folks to be collectively provoked, challenged and inspired, while connecting, conversing and processing it all together.
A few changes from past year’s events: We have selected more speakers — but to speak for shorter times, upon audience request. We’ve curated two special groups to join our expected, provocative talks. Here is the complete lineup (access their bios and abstracts through the speaker home page here).
For being OUT THERE in their investigations, solutions, ideas, courage or reach. Talks include:
- On rebuilding cities, Mohamed Ali.
- On global warming, David Bromwich .
- On gender fluidity, Gabrielle Burton.
- On revolutionizing hacking, Chris Domas.
- On finding new planets, Scott Gaudi.
- On giving back out there, when you are in there, Jim Fussell
- On a basic unmet human need, Nancy Kramer.
- On the courage to change, Decker Moss.
- On reaching deep inside the brain, Ali Rezai.
- On new rules for systems, Joe Simkins.
- On entertaining us, Tobin-Wilcox and The Castros.
Five in five. (Okay, we did want to celebrate being five.)
For being OUT THERE in their passions – in five minutes each.
- On writing through logic, Miriam Bowers Abbott.
- On paying attention, Chris Fraser.
- On exploring within, Josh Hara.
- On coming out of the valley, Stephanie Hughes.
- On a dynamic bike city, Jess Mathews.
Sensory Talks. Playing on the five theme (last time, promise!), we’ve invited a group of speakers to share an incredible range of thinking on our five main senses.
- On smells in a city, Dax Blake.
- On our scent and taste memory, Tom Knotek.
- On saving sight, Kaweh Mansouri.
- On the power of touch, Lori Guth Moffett.
- On challenging the ability to listen, Susan Nittrouer.
And we encourage you to move quickly if you’d like to attend. We expect, as always, tickets to sell out. Tickets can be purchased here.
TEDxColumbus 2013 is made possible with support of the following partners:
Lead Sponsor, resource.
Media Partner, WOSU
Last Spring, over a period of one month and two days, the Columbus area was host to four TEDx events: One at a prison, another at a university, yet another at a research institute, and the last at a high school.
What’s going on here? TEDx is growing—clearly—though not just up in numbers but out into diverse and interesting terrains.
Last month, we shared the story of one of these four, the second annual TEDxMarionCorrectional held on April 21, 2013 (their first event was the first ever TEDx in an adult prison). Today, we share the story of TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool (May 15, 2013). We asked 17-year-old curator and organizer Alexandria Armeni to write about her motivation to bring this event to her high school and what happened when she did. Graciously, she agreed. Here’s her story:
by Alexandria Armeni
Glancing in my review mirror at the huge red TEDx sign taking up the whole of my backseat, it was finally real: I was hosting a TEDx event.
Me . . . a 17-year-old . . . a high school senior at The Wellington School . . . I was bringing together an event that had to embody the spirit of TEDx and follow all of their rules. What had I gotten myself into?
You might be wondering, too, how a high school senior comes to be hosting a TEDx event. To tell you, I’ll have to back up to October of last year. That’s when I attended my first ever TEDx event, TEDxColumbus. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t even heard of TED before this, but after spending all day at TEDxColumbus, I fell in love. I loved the presenters and performers and meeting new people, but the main thing I loved was the concept of TEDx. I loved, and still love, the whole idea of bringing people together to share in the spread of ideas. I wanted to bring that to my school. I wanted the Wellington community to have the same experience I had and to feel that sense of being part of something bigger. So with this desire in hand (and heart) I walked up to TEDxColumbus organizer Ruth Milligan and explained that I wanted to put on my own TEDx event. She was excited about the prospect and even offered to help.
After some thinking, I figured out how I would do it: My SIP. That’s short for Senior Independent Project. Each senior at The Wellington School must do one. Not graded, it’s more of a pass or fail type of project, which is why most seniors do something like learn to play guitar or camp for a week. My SIP would be different; I would host a TEDx event.
As November came and went, I got permission from Wellington, found an advisor, and applied for my TEDx license. Winter break flew by with still no word about my license, but I had TEDx fever and didn’t want to wait any longer. I figured out a theme, Big Ideas, and decided to start finding presenters. After a ton of announcements, posts on my school’s websites, and a bit of coercing on my part, people started getting interested—not hoards of people, but enough.
As January turned into February, and February inched towards March, I started to panic slightly. I had already done so much work in planning for the event, but I still technically wasn’t a licensed TEDx event holder. It was Ruth who helped me out. Thankfully, she helped get me in contact with TED to talk about my license and after quite a few emails and a handful of phone calls I was lucky enough to get one—for a TEDxYouth event. While I hadn’t expected the youth label, after reading through the TED organizers manual and talking with the people at TED, I realized it was the right fit. The audience, after all, would be the juniors and seniors at my high school.
By the time I had my speakers and presenters all lined up, it was a diverse group. I had eight students, seven from high school and one from middle school; two teachers; my head of school; an alumnus, a parent of a current student, and a parent of alumni. I had prepared a five-page speaker packet to give my presenters an idea of the rules they needed to follow and had sat down with each speaker multiple times. Their presentations were shaping up quite nicely.
Fast forward to the beginning of May, the month of my TEDx event. It was crunch time for me, but step-by-step everything had slowly come together and the event looked like it might just work out. One week before the event I had programs in hand (folding 150 trifold programs takes a lot more time than one would imagine), a successful tech dress rehearsal, and t-shirts and food on order. A few things had me pulling my hair out, but overall everything was sort of sailing smoothly. That was, until the night before the event.
Less than a day to go and the dress rehearsal was a near disaster. With a faulty slide clicker and half my presenters unable to attend, I was near my wits end. But that was only the start of it. One of my presenters emailed me that night with a revised outline of his talk. It was completely different from the original and it broke quite a few rules set down in the TEDx organizers manual. It was also inappropriate for a student audience. I had no choice; there was no possible way I could show his talk, I had to cut him.
It was a little more than 12 hours before the start of the event and if that wasn’t enough to deal with, I also received word that the custom t-shirts I had ordered hadn’t even shipped yet. From fixing the schedule, to reprinting and folding all 150 programs, to buying a printer (thankfully I had a received some funding from Wellington) and printing homemade t-shirts, it was a long night, but everything got done.
The morning of May 15, 2013 finally arrived, and from 8:30-12:30 The Wellington School flourished with ideas and discussions about such things as walking along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, creating a small business, failing successfully, being an ant, following your dream, being true to your school, childhood obesity, the mis-measurement of students, and the ways in which technology is making people simpler.
The hours I put in, the late nights working on power points, the thousand emails to presenters, and the frantic phone calls trying to figure out just how to do everything, all while balancing schoolwork, college applications, and my part-time job: It was all worth it. And the help and support of others was not given in vain. With ten speakers, three performances, plus three TED videos, TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool was a success.
Of course, there are things I would have tweaked or changed if I had a little more experience with TEDx events, and it certainly was no TEDxColumbus. But for a high school girl’s first time hosting a TEDx event, I was more than content with the result. My little meager event brought smiles and laughter to my classmates, and gave them things to think about. It opened most of them up to the world of TEDx, and I believe that some of them experienced that same rush of being part of something bigger than themselves. TEDxYouth@WellingtonSchool was basically my life for half of my senior year. I am proud of the result. It was an unbelievable experience and process, even with all the stress, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my high school career then with TED.
Alexandria Armeni is a recent graduate of the Wellington School. In the fall, she will begin her first year at the Ohio State University in the honors program, where she plans to study zoology with a minor in French.
All photos courtesy of Alexandria Armeni
[by Kendra Hovey]
It’s TED week, when those both interested and able gather in Long Beach and Palm Springs to hear the latest “ideas worth spreading.” One early highlight from this year’s conference is the appearance of TEDxColumbus on the TED stage. On Monday, as part of the Inside TED session, our own Ruth Milligan, along with five other TEDx organizers, spoke about the growing phenomenon that is TEDx. The presentation to 1,500 TEDsters got a standing ovation.
“While the brief session was highly orchestrated,” Ruth reports from Long Beach, “it revealed the insight that organizers have: TEDx is a powerful medium to ignite conversation and spur inspiration in any community, school, prison or slum. For me, it was about having Columbus be on the global map. I was honored to be there.”
Joining Ruth on the stage were organizers from Baghdad, Iraq; Kibera, Kenya; Madrid, Spain; and Sydney, Australia, as well as another organizer from Columbus, Jordan Edelheit, a Junior at Ohio State University who is representing TEDxMarionCorrectional, the first TEDx inside an adult prison. As a group, the six demonstrate the reach and relevance of TED across continents and populations. Columbus, as you may have noticed, is the sole city from the Americas, both North and South. It’s a nice recognition, but perhaps you’re wondering—Why?
One explanation is that TEDxColumbus and TEDx basically grew up together.
When TED announced the new initiative in 2009, Ruth Milligan applied for a license soon after. In a few short months she and co-organizer Nancy Kramer pulled together the first event. With eight speakers and an audience of 300, it was, Ruth estimates, the 35th ever TEDx. That number has now grown to over 6,000. TEDxColumbus returned in 2010, and every year since. It is one of only a handful of TEDx events that, like TEDx itself, will turn five this year.
Still, TEDxColumbus is not the only successful and long-running TEDx. It is, though, the only one organized by Ruth Milligan. Let’s just be honest: Ruth is good at this. TED knows it. And that’s why she’s presenting.
The TEDx manual runs about a hundred pages, but that first year, it was closer to four. When other TEDx organizers needed advice, they were sent to Ruth. She became a go-to mentor for TEDx, eventually working with TED to develop a series of learning tools. You can hear her voice on seven or so TEDx Webinars, including a Q&A with TED curator Chris Anderson (shown above, giving the TEDx presentation a standing ovation). More recently, she was commissioned to do a how-to video. She’s led workshops at TEDActive, and was brought in as a consultant for TEDxSanDiego. Add it all up and that’s a whole lot of TEDCred.
8,980 to be exact.
No, I did not make that up. Yes, there is something called TEDCred. As a comparison, TED Head Chris Anderson has a TEDCred of 815.
For the record, Ruth was utterly unaware of her score. When I told her, she was visibly shocked, but still she shrugged it off: “Maybe it’ll make up for all the A’s I didn’t get in college,” she said.
If nothing else, “8,980” reflects a big chunk of Ruth Milligan’s time and energy. TED-style organizing is a lot of work, but no way will she be stopping anytime soon. It’s her thing, her passion, what Sir Ken Robinson might call her element; it’s her “KitKat,” as Ruth herself will say, drawing on the name of her father’s old (and frustratingly) all-male speech club (The KitKat Club) where, as an occasional young tagalong, she first got hooked.
Ruth Milligan, you see, is a speech junkie.
In the days before the internet she was known to troll c-span looking for a fix, and still, every year, she happily anticipates the arrival of Spring and with it a whole new crop of graduation speeches. Helping people find, craft and share their message is something she enjoys. Along the way, she says, there is almost always emotion and connection, and sometimes action and change.
One constant from the first year to the next, she says, is that “TED continually inspires conversations I never knew were possible.” [Her insights into the process are shared on the TED Blog. It’s a concise, thoughtful and highly recommended read.]
As far as contrasts, “the biggest change from year-one,” she says, “I no longer have to explain TED or defend it anymore.” Nor does she need to push ticket sales. In 2009, the first 50 sold “out of the gate” to TED fans. Speaker connections and the community around the Wexner Center and OSU accounted for the next 100. So, how’d she sell the remaining 150? In her own words, “I worked my ass off,” she says.
Another change is that speakers are now finding her (or in some cases their PR agent). By the same token, she and the curatorial team have honed their process. “I’ll listen to anyone,” she says, “but we don’t make the mistake anymore of accepting a speaker for the wrong reason.” She’s also learned to be blunt. “This will take 30…40…50 hours,” she now tells speakers, “It won’t be easy. It will be messy.”
Being on stage at TED was a high point for Ruth Milligan and, as always, she would love to see a TEDxColumbus speaker at TED or featured on TED.com. But, “far more important now,” she says, is what’s happening here: “I see the power of people sharing even if no one else outside of our community hears them.” It builds community. It can lead to action, whether for just one person or on a larger scale. Columbus, as a “smart and open city” needs an elevated dialogue, and TEDxColumbus is a platform, Ruth says, for turning up that dialogue. “People trust it and consider it part of the cultural fabric,” and that, for her, is the most gratifying part of all.
There’s one last question I had to ask Ruth the Speech Coach:
She put herself through the same paces she would her clients. But, honestly, she’s an easy client: “For whatever reason this is not my challenge…Figuring out how to dry my hair well…That’s my challenge.”
Featured photo courtesy of Nancy Kramer; all others courtesy of TED