Every year for the past seven years, TEDxDetroit has attempted to do something that few events or people can lay claim to: It tries to unify a people, a place and a public that desperately needs unifying.
Its goal is a simple one: To serve as a gathering spot – one day a year, granted – for the region’s Biggest Thinkers to come together and talk about what they’re doing. It’s a chance to blow people’s minds – or create explosions, like in the case of Thursday’s event at the Fox Theatre.
It’s important to emphasize the idea of unity for TEDxDetroit because the most recent event showed how essential that theme is both to the speakers and the participants. Because the event is live streamed, anyone anywhere could watch. The world could participate in the discussion around dreamers, doers and divas of TEDxDetroit.
What makes the event also a must-attend moment is that news is created there. It could be when something surprising happens, like a speech that you think is going to zig and it suddenly zags, setting up a conversation that goes beyond social media. It happens when there are people there such as Karen Buscemi, who highlights the massive movement to create a “Garment District” within Detroit, putting not only an incubator within Tech Town but a whole effort into textiles, sewing and garment manufacturing within Midtown Detroit.
TEDxDetroit, presented by Walsh College, is a conference like no other. It is a locally organized effort, put together by a panel of Detroit champions who screen possible speakers to find those who are genuinely changing Detroit – or those who have the power to change the region either with what they are about to do or have the ability to do. That is clear from the efforts of such speakers including Mallory Brown of World Clothesline, who noted how direct, personal appeals to issues such as poverty and world hunger – both in Detroit and around the world – are creating real, actual change.
The goal is to combine the audience with TED speakers, videos and Lab participants who will “spark deep discussion and connection” in this group and elsewhere. That goal was mightily met Thursday as well, especially when you think about a speaker such as Aaron Foley, the freelance writer turned author whose book, “How to Live in Detroit Without Being an Jackass,” could have resulted in a humorous or light-hearted talk. That title did spark laughter, but Foley’s heartfelt yet tough talk about what the region needs to do to stop having the same tired conversations about New versus Old Detroit was an eye opener that deserves study.
This day-long, independently organized TED event was, as always, inspirational. How could you not walk away impressed and excited when you got to hear about a University of Detroit Jesuit high school student designing a “wheelchair stroller?” To hear the Q&A between Alden Kane, organizer Charlie Wollborg and user Sharina Jones was incredible – there was an outstanding, long unmet need for mothers in wheelchairs to have some way to carry their infants along with them through their daily routines. And, together, Kane and Jones came up with answer that will truly change people’s lives. Their story recently made the media rounds, but to hear them in person and see the look on their faces as they talked about this invention was outstanding and memorable.
There were other speakers that blew our collective minds as well. Just to be in the room with Cathy Olkin of NASA New Horizons was cool enough. But she outlined how she and other researchers created a way to spy on Pluto and waited NINE YEARS to get any result was motivational. If you have a project in the works and feel frustrated by its progress, think of Olkin and get back to work. Because if she can wait nine years, you can go a few more days or months on yours.
There were people like Stephen McGee of Stephen McGee Films who showed how using technology along his imagination will change the way Detroit is perceived worldwide. You cannot say “may change” or “could change” when you see McGee’s work. You cannot help but be completely convinced of him, his mission and his goals when you see the powerful images he created using drones and other forms of modern movie making. All praise to technology and imagination for helping all of us create a new vision for the city and its future.
And, honestly, all hail the educators, scientists, doctors, singers, poets and many more creative people who made TEDxDetroit the spectacular that it is. If you weren’t there, take a few minutes and watch the speeches. They’ll inspire you daily to kick your own butt and get things done. If you were there, get off your computer and get going. Let’s keep changing Detroit. Let’s rebuild, revive, embrace and encourage this city, its people and its region.