TED talks started out as an invite-only exclusive party for the Illuminati. Technology, Entertainment, Design. But thanks to the web- everyone can go- forever into eternity. TEDx is allowing other places in on the fun. Think of it as the minor leagues- but, the reality is, everyone has a shot to become the next big viral thing- if you nail your subject.
Despite being a tech conference, I was a little relieved when the orders came to put away the digital devices – no tweeting, posting, etc. It allowed me to concentrate on what was being said- I took notes- the old fashioned way- with a pen and notebook.
So on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013, a little over two dozen people took the stage and threw up their best, from Dayton, Ohio. Overall, everyone in the audience thought that today it was an awesome day to be from Dayton, Ohio- from the music and dance performances that broke up the talks to the neuroscientist trying to stimulate brains with electricity to help people identify the enemy in pictures taken by drones- nobody left thinking they’d not gotten their $50 worth and then some.
I knew or was connected to about a third of the people who took the stage- which is as it should be in a small town. The event ran like clockwork. I saw lots of people I knew in the audience- and quite a few I didn’t. I’m sure people who were there will continue to talk about a lot of what they saw and heard today- for quite a while. The interesting part is, once the videos go up- will any of them go “viral”- which ones will connect with people and become a minor legend? The beauty of TED is that even though it’s highly produced – there is always an element of surprise. To me, that’s the beauty of the day.
The first one was listening to my neighbor and her sisters play a short set to open up the show. Elizabeth Rasmussen and her sisters, Celia and Leslie have a band called “Good English” and while I doubt they’ve played too many gigs at 9 a.m., it was cool to say, hey, that’s my neighbor, as the curtain rose.
I’m not going to run down every speaker- but, as someone who prides himself on trying to make others think, these were the things I really liked. Chris Wire talked about thinking without depending on a smart phone and Google. I’ve always been of the mindset that memorization of facts isn’t always as important as understanding concepts and being able to apply them. I always figured I could look something up- I just never expected it to be as easy as my iPhone plus Google- Chris did an awesome job of encouraging people to search for new answers- to show the value of creativity in answers- even when you have to punt. I thought this was particularly pertinent today- as I had to read in the Dayton Daily news how once again, some “leader” in Dayton is touting us as a distribution/logistics hub. Yawn.
There were some inspirational stories that were built to play on heartstrings- I was born poor, but look at me now, wasn’t worthy of a TED talk, although it was a perfectly nice story. However, there was one thing that I did agree with- “champions work together”- something Dayton needs to learn. We do a great job of finding faults with people in this town- “you’re not black, you’re too smart, you’re Jewish, you’re suburban, you’re urban” some sort of way to divide us- instead of bringing us together. This topic came up more than once. Dayton needs to be able to be proud- and if all the 1,000 or so people there today could take the pride they felt today out into the community- we might have a good start on things.
But, I wanted to stick to surprises- things that made me think. Marta Wojcik from Poland asked “is a place worthy of being the vessel of your memories”- and was talking about nostalgia for comfortable touch-points to your past. She surprised me by talking about creative place-making- vs. our treating our buildings and heritage as disposable. She celebrated the arts- and artists and designers for the ability to create unique things in our community as compared to our penchant for sprawl. I thought of all the people I met in my last campaign- and the memories they shared with me of growing up at Mallory park pool- or at the Roosevelt center- or before that the school- and to think we’ve undone those vessels for what? Finding out later that she was the director of the Westcott House in Springfield took a bit of the wonderment of her presentation out.
Hearing a guy named Roosevelt (and yes, he’s related to the president by the same name) get up and talk about Abe Lincoln as the answer to our modern dilemmas of the divergence of wealth and poverty and the earth and ecology was a reminder that there have been seemingly daunting challenges in the past- that visionary leadership was able to steer a course to a solution, even if it did entail the deaths of more Americans than in all our other battles put together. Learning from history so we don’t repeat it is always thought provoking.
Instead of hearing the same old STEM nonsense- listening to Dr. Nathan Klingbeil explain that by eliminating conventional math prerequisites to get into engineering they have created more engineers, just by approaching the process with an integrated approach. Calculus is only one part of being an engineer- solving problems creatively is another, and Dr. K demonstrated that by taking a different approach, they could have dramatic changes in graduation rates for engineers at Wright State.
When Judith Ezekiel took the stage, I was totally unprepared for her discussion “Changing race”- talking about cultural racism in a way that forced the audience to self-examine. Jewish, black, rich, poor, educated- all the issues wrapped up into one. If there is one talk I’d want to listen to again, and be able to pause, rewind, replay- it would probably be this one. We have race issues in Dayton and if there were someone who could lead the discussion in a meaningful way- I’d put Judith in charge in a heartbeat.
Another surprise came from Justin Howard, proprietor of the Black Box Improv Theater on E. Third St in the Cannery. Although I despise the idea of TedX being used as a commercial for a business- which several people did, Justin demonstrated his passion for improv by winging the whole thing- including pulling an audience member out (we wondered if she was a ringer) and launching into an improv skit with a word shouted out from the audience (me- with blasphemy). Why Justin is doing his thing in Dayton was because he thinks Dayton is a city that’s “blank and ready to go.” He also cautioned us that “no one in Dayton is important”- which I thought was the perfect thing to be said during this day of celebration of Dayton- that we have to start bonding together and championing our city- together.
When asking my friends about what they liked and didn’t like- Dr. David Shuster came up more than once. He took the stage wearing one blue latex glove- and I kept thinking why the Michael Jackson impersonation. Toward the end of his talk he rolled up his black t-shirt and started sticking himself with the acupuncture type needle as a demonstration to make his point. That apparently grossed them out a bit. Oddly, I ran into him on Saturday at the 2nd St. Market- I was wearing my TedX t-shirt, and he stopped me and asked me what I thought. The needle wasn’t what bothered me, it’s that he started out saying that his field- Electrodiagnostic medicine, wasn’t well respected or liked by some. I told him there was no need to start with a negative (a lesson learned on the campaign trail the hard way) and that he hurt his credibility more than helped it with that lead.
I was totally unprepared for SSGT Deondra Parks who shared her story of sitting in a bookstore when a neo-Nazi came in and started shooting black people before shooting himself as his way of “celebrating Hitler’s birthday.” Her strength projected into the audience, her story of forgiveness and triumph was powerful- yet, for some reason, she didn’t get a standing ovation- while the “white woman who was born poor” did. Odd. This is a woman who could teach us all how to roll with the punches and come up on top.
I enjoyed the talk and piano performance of Steffin Johnson, a Stivers grad and now adjunct piano instructor- but, again, he started with the dismissal of a stereotype- that just because he’s a black piano player people expect him to play Fats Waller or boogie woogie. He asked can you tell a person’s color by listening to the music? I once walked out of a Dayton Daily news editorial board session when I asked them to retract a line in a review of a “G Love and Special Sauce” album that started out with “listening to this album, one could hardly believe that they are white” or some such nonsense. I didn’t want to be “endorsed” by a paper that thought you could tell what color someone was by the kind of music they made- they endorsed Bootsie Neal and Dean Lovelace and dismissed me as a crackpot. So much for taking a stand in Dayton, Ohio. Thank you Steffin for bringing this subject up and for the marvelous performance.
I was mesmerized by my friend David Stoneburner’s son- Dillon “Stoney D” with his dance moves as we returned from the “cookie break.” His performance won’t change my life or make me want to learn how to “Pop and lock”- but, it was amazing to watch.
I understand that everyone has different trigger points- and that some ideas connect better with others and that this is just my opinion- but, the last speaker, London Coe of “Peace on Fifth” was the one who gave me a new way to approach what I’ve been trying to do on this site and in my campaigns for office- she said we need to “Date your City.” Go out and explore the wonderful things, meet the people and share and celebrate the talent that we have here. It was the perfect ending to a day full of inspired presentations from the best that stepped up and it was the rallying cry for a city sadly short of pride. We have a lot to love in Dayton, we just have to stop dwelling on the negatives which are so easy to point out as I watched A.J. Wagner do as he self-destructed his campaign talking about Dayton as a dying city.
Dayton is awesome. And, next year at TedX I hope to be on stage. This was Dayton at its best.