UPDATE: This story is written by Michael Tomberlin from Alabama NewsCenter. Learn more at: http://alabamanewscenter.com
TEDx Birmingham has marked five years of introducing ideas and sparking discussion among a variety of topics important to the present and future of the Magic City.
The speakers “just blow me away – the ideas and the quality and the discipline and the commitment the people in our community put towards this,” said Matthew Hamilton, organizer of TEDx Birmingham. “We really look for a diversity of ideas, not just a diversity of speakers.”
The Magic City in Focus
This year’s ideas ranged from architecture to financial disparity to healthcare and energy. The Magic City is the obvious focus, but Hamilton said it was important to not be too Birmingham-centric.
“Most of our speakers are generally from the Birmingham area, but we do look outside,” he said. “I think if we had the viewpoint that only people from Birmingham had the best ideas to share, that might be a little close-minded.”
Just as important, Hamilton said, is making sure all parts of the community are represented. “The diversity of our speakers is important,” he said. “That’s not just racial and gender diversity, but age diversity also. So we have people who have a lot of life experience and some interesting things that they can share.”
Cheryl Morgan is a retired educator from the Auburn University Urban Studio and its architecture and design faculty. “I really talked about the fact that, by and large, when we think about the built environment there is huge opportunity for community building there,” she said. “But often we get what we think we deserve and we really need to set the standard much higher.”
Morgan has introduced past speakers but she said being a speaker herself was a rewarding experience.
“I really believe in the concept of sharing ideas,” she said. “One of the things I love about a city is the idea that you run into people who are not like you and you learn something or it changes the way you think about things. I think in all kinds of ways that the point of TEDx is to run into ideas, run into people who are not like you and may change the way you think about something.”
Morgan said she loved having an opportunity to make a message accessible to others outside of an academic environment. She also loved the idea of someone brushing their teeth the morning after and being struck by something he or she heard at TEDx Birmingham.
Hamilton likes the idea of that, too. “It’s always a challenge just getting people to know what’s going on. This provides such a great forum because it’s so multiple disciplinary, it’s a great opportunity for people to know what’s going on that they just might not have known otherwise.”
A Catalyst for Change
Van Moody spoke about economic empowerment being the new civil rights movement. “I think one of the great things about it is people can leave with an understanding of, ‘What can I do to help make our community better, our society better?,’” Moody said. “I hope that my talk helped empower people with some of the next steps we need to be focused on.”
Another speaker, Salaam Green, said she is inspired by the possibilities from TEDx Birmingham. “I’ve been coming to TED talks since they’ve been in Birmingham,” she said. “I love the experience. I love the storytelling aspect of TED talks. I love the whole idea around ideas and innovation and I love that it’s here in Birmingham.”
The true greatness of TEDx Birmingham, Green said, is what happens after the talks. “You can see change happening as a result of someone coming to a TEDx and getting a new idea, meeting a new person, having a new opportunity and then taking it and spreading it into the community,” she said.
Hamilton said the difficulty is tracking that change. “There are all kinds of actions that do come out of this,” he said. “The biggest challenge we have, actually, is getting people to tell us what has come of it.”
Hamilton said he would like to be made aware of stories like he told attendees this year.
“One of our speakers last year … spoke about the shared kidney chain donation,” he said. “One of our attendees anonymously donated a kidney to a complete stranger after hearing a TEDx talk. He literally saved somebody’s life.”
Morgan said you never know what will be a catalyst for lasting change. “We’ve got a billion dollars of private investment in our downtown right now and I think we can look back to that early investment in Railroad Park and then ultimately the baseball park coming downtown,” she said. “Those two gave confidence to other investors to start to say, ‘This is a place where people will want to be.’”
Some of the topics were more about general empowerment than a specific focus. Green wrote a poem to her grandmother, changing the narrative of what it means to be a “Southern woman.”
“We are not Southern belles, we came here to give them hell. We came to rebel,” she said. “So, let’s say it loud, let’s say it proud.”
But Moody was out to make a more direct correlation. “I talked about the importance of financial education and connecting the dots between what the civil rights leaders were after 50 years ago to some of the same issues, really, affecting negatively our society,” he said.
Real Value of TEDx
Regardless, Hamilton said it is in the sharing that TEDx finds success.
“Our goal, our mission, if you will, we say that we want to spark the conversations and the innovations that will lead to a better Birmingham,” he said.
“We think that bringing people together who might not engage with each other otherwise under normal circumstances to discuss some challenging ideas to see what comes out of that can really have a positive impact not just in our community but maybe even the world.”
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