What happens when you put nearly 30 speakers, poets and performers together at the historic Fox Theatre, all united around the idea of telling the world positive stories from Detroit? You get TEDxDetroit.
TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short presentation with a lot of meaning. There are many TED talks if you do a search online on a variety of topics. TEDxDetroit is an affiliated but independently run local version of the national conference.
Let’s just get started with some of the highlights I liked the most. Botanical Fortress greeted guests on the grand staircase while a belly dancer danced to their musical tones and beats.
When you entered the grand theater the stage was lit up with the big TEDxDetroit sign. A shiny vintage red truck carrying the popular red “X” was parked on the other side surrounded by crates, crates that maybe represented ideas that were about to be brought to the stage.
The event kicked off with Khary Turner, executive director of the Coleman A. Young Foundation, paying homage to Detroit’s first African American Mayor, Coleman A. Young.
“If anything, Coleman A. Young was an icon. Let me push this a step future and say that Coleman A. Young was idea. But specifically and idea of what it takes to love a city especially Detroit in a way that moved it forward,” Turner said.
I found this to be very fitting since Mayor Young helped saved the theatre we were sitting in by cutting a deal with the Ilitches to make it happen.
The morning continued with various other speakers such as the spirited Aaron Draplin, Designer and founder of Draplin Design Co, who was born in Detroit and is now based in Portland, Oregon.
Aaron briefly shared about his life and what it took to get to where he is today via pictures and hysterical anecdotes.
“I’ve been fighting hard to make it,” said Draplin, which can be seen in his new book ‘Pretty Much Everything’ which is a survey of his work, case studies and advice.
His huge appreciation and love for Detroit was evident throughout his talk.
“I love Detroit. I was afraid to come here because I didn’t want to be that kind of person that [just] buys a sweatshirt that says “DETROIT,” said Draplin.
He ended his speech with “But just so you guys know, all the places I been all the places I’ve been lucky to live just know I’ve always defended my hometown because this continues to teach me that you never f*** with an underdog!”
That, as a lifelong Detroit resident, I can relate to.
Zaria Ware, 18, brought the spoken word. Her poem, which dealt with assault, obsession and self-hatred of women, had four descriptions of boyfriends who represent different situations or perceptions women face.
Ware ends her poem with this stanza, which I feel is powerful in itself and sums up it up well.
“Tell them, I will not be your sacrifice. America continues to act as if feminism is so radical when this entire country relocated, enslaved and murder millions. America acts as if our rape culture is a side effect as if our girl self-esteem problems are a side effects, as if teen pregnancy is a side effect, as if women issues are just side effects, as if violent men are side effects, as if women are always meant to be just on the side. So tell them you do not own this body!”
Patrick Elkins did a unique, sci-fi shadow puppet performance that was mesmerizing. This wasn’t your simple alligator or duck shadow figure on a wall you use to do as a child with a flashlight. He also created an environment with trees and the characters were alien figures. Each character had a different voice too, and that made it even more interesting.
Paulette Auchtung with the Michigan Science Center did an excellent demonstration of motion and expressed the need of encouraging young girls to go into the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) field areas.
The Michigan Science Center has an interesting program called the STEMinista Project. It’s for fourth through eighth graders and offers special opportunities in STEM with girls in mind. The girls get to partake in cool programs, meet and greet women with interesting STEM jobs and more.
If you know or have a young girl who may be interested in science, technology, engineering and or math then please check this program out. I also believe the STEMinista program is looking for mentors too in the STEM area.
Session two brought in more powerhouse speakers and performers such as Adam Genei of Mobsteel, who started his business building custom cars with his wife during a time when the economy took a turn. He reminded us that skilled trades are still needed. A lot of the older workers who worked in skilled trades are retiring and the need for skill trade is growing.
“The formula is simple. Learn to do something with your hands, your mind whatever but work hard, if you are capable to get up and chasing a dream and working at it then you can be as successful as you want,” said Genei.
I was blown out of my seat by 2014 Kresge Artist Fellow in music, Kisma Jordan. Jordan is an opera singer and songwriter and she sung a powerful, moving piece that had the whole audience at awe. Her voice was so beautiful and powerful that at the end of her performance we the audience didn’t have a choice but to give her a well-deserved standing ovation.
Shamayim Harris with Avalon Village wrapped up the second session. Shamayim, known as Shu to many, started Avalon Village, a sustainable eco-village in Highland Park which is a suburb nestled inside of Detroit. The block that Shu changed is located between Woodward and Second and at one time had 42 houses. It now only consists of six.
Her inspiration for transforming this blighted neighborhood stemmed from the passing of her son, Jakobi, who was killed by a hit and run driver. She turned her pain into power and started rebuilding this block in Highland Park.
“I want for my neighborhood what I want for myself,” said Harris.
Jakobi RA Park, which is named after her son, is a park used as a gathering place and place for the children to play. This park also includes a solar powered streetlight, important as Highland Park fell on such hard times that they took the streetlights out.
Avalon Village is constantly evolving. Right now it consists of the Homework House and Gooddess Market (built out of shipping containers that will showcase and houses woman-owned businesses). These were part of phase one of Avalon Village. Phase one also consisted of the cleanup of the block.
Shu named phase two the “Wellness phase.” This will include the Blue Moon Café, a green house, a holistic product store and the Avalon healing house. Activity courts that will include basketball, tennis, and volleyball will also be added next door to the homework house. In addition, Shu plans to install a gazebo, a fence with graffiti on the back and to add more solar lights.
Shu was also featured on Ellen show and was gifted a beautiful house which will the use as head quarters for Avalon village and a welcome center.
The third session kicked off with belly dancing, Lungiswa Moore with My Girl Squad, and Satori Shakoor of The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers. Lisa Waud, of the Flower House, told us the story of how she came up with the idea, how she got started and the steps it took to get the Flower House together.
Flower House was created by talented florists and filled an abandoned house in Detroit with fresh flowers and living plants to create a beautiful installation. The pictures she showed us were amazing. In addition, after the installation is over, the house was deconstructed and the materials repurposed. The land will then be converted into a flower farm and design center for Lisa’s business Pot & Box.
Mike Ellison had everybody on their feet with a live performance that included dancers who danced and did acrobatic flips in the air. They even had this little boy just kill it on the drums. Their performance was so hyped and energizing.
There wasn’t a dull moment at TEDxDetroit. It was an awesome experience with great speakers and performers. I wish I could cover all of the speakers but then my blog post would be more of a research paper.
The event imparted deep words of wisdom and insight on how to make the world better whether through a new inventions or investing in your community.
TEDxDetroit was a great experience, and one that I will never forget.