Remember when Amanda Palmer took to the TED Talk stage to discuss “The Art of Asking” (which also inspired her book of the same name)? Or when Sir Ken Robinson asked, “Do schools kill creativity?” Or when Mary Roach taught us 10 things we didn’t know about an orgasm…
Since 1984 the nonprofit TED has been known for spreading big ideas far and wide on a global scale, by way of its technology, design and entertainment conference. Today it’s grown into a multitude of famous talks from leaders dishing on business, science, art, psychology, sexuality, music, human behavior, and so much more—and in more than 100 languages, nonetheless.
From TED spawned TEDx, a smaller platform for communities to host their own mini conferences, with local leaders taking the stage among a 100-person audience to talk about concerns from their corners of the world. In 2016 Wilmington found much inspiration in its inaugural class of speakers in TEDxAirlie. The program is returning Friday, March 29, for a day-long conference at Thalian Hall, featuring 11 speakers.
According to Katie Campbell, one of 12 organizers of the event, “The Bridge” became top of mind as the 2019 theme for obvious reasons: It’s an iconic structure across southeastern NC, from the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge to Snow’s Cut to the new Topsail bridge. “But also because it’s all-encompassing,” Campbell adds. “Bridges connect people, places and things. We felt the theme would pull speakers from all walks of life, offering a wide mix of backgrounds and experiences.”
Out of 80 submitted applications, the committee narrowed them down to 20 face-to-face interviews. Speakers had to prove their “big idea” and how “The Bridge” would fit into their overall presentation that also would inspire the audience. Encouraging 18-minute discussions will come from: New Hanover and Pender county district attorney Ben David; founder Cedric Harrison of Support the Port; supervisor Evan Folds of New Hanover Soil and Water Conservation District; founder Cliff Ray of P2P® RESCUE; multimedia producer David Wise; UNCW communication studies professor Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock; Lanier Property Group founder Stephanie Lanier; chief information officer and chief digital officer Mona Badie for GE Hitachi Nuclear; and obstetrician gynecologist professor Dr. William ‘Skip’ Johnstone of NHRMC OBGYN residency program. Two out-of-towners will join the lineup, including Oregon artist, writer and performer Jason Bend, and from Kinston, NC, cofounder of Vivian Howard Restaurant Group (The Chef and Farmer, Benny’s Big Time), Ben Knight.
“Providing a public platform of discussion, intellectual discourse and purposeful stories is essential for helping Wilmington grow as a city that is open and accepting to innovation,” Knight tells. “The port city, and the eastern region, specifically, needs to open up to new ideas, approaches and types of people, if they are to become relevant in contemporary society.”
Proving as much is true is Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock, who will bring to light the reality of having a lifelong diagnosis of cerebral palsy. She’s fought against many stereotypes associated with the illness: folks assuming there is little she can participate in, like giving birth (she has four children), or generally being active (she teaches, skis and road-bikes). Folks often assume she is dying more quickly, too.
“I’m not,” Scott-Pollock clarifies. “Cerebral palsy is not a progressive condition. These assumptions illuminate the artificial binary/divide between ‘able’ and ‘disabled’ bodies that as a society we need to let go of. We are all mortal bodies, with forever changing abilities on what I term ‘the ability bridge.’ We draw this binary because we know our bodies are less valued as they become less able. If we start valuing all of our bodies’ journeys through ability, we can let go of this fear.”
Scott-Pollock has been formulating her talk throughout her life’s work. The professor has been writing about her journey, conducting research, and even designing courses around embodied awareness and empathy. “This is a summary of a topic I revisit in multiple publications and courses focused on storytelling cultural studies,” the UNCW professor notes.
Whereas folks often are encumbered by their daily lives of work and family, and may have time to study some of the topics TEDxAirlie covers, like that of living with cerebral palsy, it’s one reason TEDx is so appealing. It disperses a lot of information without having to crack a book.
“[It] offers a way to get work, hopes, and goals our community members have and strive for out into the public in an efficient, engaging manner,” Scott-Pollock tells. “The time limit of an 8-to-15-minute talk can force us to hone the core of our messages and make them accessible.”
Cedric Harrison is happy to be in front of an audience who he says needs to hear his message—one that otherwise may not reach the TED demographic had local organizers not arranged the 2019 event. His nonprofit, Support the Port, works toward bridging the gap between race and socioeconomics within underserved communities in Wilmington.
“It’s very important, as Wilmington seems to have a lot of big organizations and individuals trying to close this gap,” he tells. Harrison has success stories aplenty in his young nonprofit, founded in 2015. He will share them, along with ideas on how others can help close the gap, even if they have little resources.
“I also work at Cape Fear Community College at the Nixon Minority Male Leaders Center,” Harrison adds, “and I’ve witnessed first-hand how finances can impact education, which is one part of three topics I touch on.”
Another multipronged subject will be the root of crime and criminality festering from social determinants of health. Presented by Ben David, the district attorney will speak on poverty, addiction, abuse, and oppression.
“These causes are often preventable,” he notes, “and if we can identify the members of our community most at risk and provide resources needed to change their outcomes, we can help prevent future crimes before they occur.”
Though the DA oversees 5,000 felonies, 20,000 misdemeanors, and 50,000 traffic offenses each year, he says crime in our city is actually at an historic low. Yet, the city continues to face problems, such as gang violence and the opioid crisis.
“The old model of ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ isn’t working,” he confirms. “When our country has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of earth’s prisoners, something is broken. Instead of a pound of cure, we need to focus on the ounce of prevention. I hope the audience will be inspired to get involved with one of the organizations currently working on that prevention, whether it’s through the hospital, or a nonprofit, or one of our public schools.”
Dr. Skip Johnstone will send the audience away with homework even, so his discussion on pregnant women and addiction isn’t easily forgotten after he exits the stage. Dr. Johnstone treats high-risk pregnancies and has seen a growth in opioid use among pregnant women.
“The discussion is important because we are losing young members of our society at an alarming rate,” Dr. Johnstone notes. “The scourge of addiction affects all and every community.”
He wants to help reduce the stigma toward addicts so discrimination and biases, even from the medical field, won’t prevent healing. Addicts likely won’t seek help if they feel they’re being scrutinized.
“Opioid use disorder in Wilmington has received the designation of Ground Zero Number One City in the US per capita,” he iterates. “I will discuss how to dispel myths, explain the disease state of addiction, and how we can actually do something for those affected in a holistic, evidenced-based treatment program.”
Tickets to TEDxAirlie are sold out at Thalian Hall, but can be secured for satellite showing areas at Intracoastal Realty and UNCW Lumina Theater. An afterparty will take place at Ironclad at 5 p.m.