TEDxDetroit: Making us Laugh, Making us Cry

If you’re not in the know about TED talks, you’re really missing out.  I got hooked on the topics and the high quality of speakers a few years ago.  I listen to the audio on iTunes.

TED stand for Technology, Entertainment, Design.  While the TED talks are national, the TEDx talks are locally, independently, organized around the principles of TED.   Michigan is quite active in TEDx talks, with events held in Lansing, Flint, Grand Rapids, and Ann Arbor (UofM) in addition to Detroit.

But this week TEDx in Michigan totally belonged to Detroit.  Hosted in the beautiful Detroit Institute of Arts, TEDxDetroit attracted 1000 folks to the city for this one-day event. The energy around revitalizing the city was everywhere at TEDx.  From Chazz Miller’s mission to beautify the city one mural at a time through Public Art Workz to the thought-provoking and energetic poet Jessica Care Moore , there was no sign of giving up on this city. Dancing, singing, and poetry were mixed in with a wide variety of talks.  There was definitely something for everyone.

The organizers asked the speakers to connect with the audience’s emotions.  We definitely laughed.  And there were 2 stories that made me cry, for different reasons.  I saw a lot of other people dabbing their eyes too when Steve Kahn talked about his kids in the Math Corps.  He talked about believing in the greatness of all children and how that makes him do crazy things.  Well, he may be crazy but his kids are improving their test scores from 30% to 90%.  When he speaks, his faith in these kids is evident.  He won’t give up on them.  Ever.  And yes, he brought me to tears when he described how one child didn’t want to move away from his family (the Math Corps) to live with his relatives.  Powerful stuff.

The other story that made me cry was Victor Green’s story about completing an Olympic distance triathlon.  Before his mother died, he promised her that he would make some changes to get into shape, and that he would do a triathlon.  He faced incredible diversity including horrific water conditions in the 1 mile swim that saw many people pulled out of the water.  He nearly gave up on the 25 mile bike, until he saw one of his teammates cheering him on.  His description of cramping and wanting to stop on the 6.2 mile run is all too familiar to anyone who has done a distance race.  But with his teammates cheering him on and running the last mile of the race alongside him, from the sidewalk, long after their finish, I was incredibly moved by his determination and strength.  Yes, Victor, you are a triathlete.  And an inspiration to us all.

And that’s what TED and TEDx are all about.  Surprising you.  Moving you.  Inspiring you.

TEDxFlint is on October 23.  TEDxGrandRapids is still in the planning stages.

TEDxUofM was in April.  TEDxLansing was in May.   I suspect they’ll be back in 2011, along with another wonderful TEDxDetroit.