“There are two stories about Detroit, and they’re both true. The question is which do you want to amplify.”
Those were the opening words at this year’s TEDxDetroit from curator Charlie Wollborg, and it set the tone for a day that would not only be full of rousing words of inspiration, but also serve to highlight the many great movements that are already happening in the city of Detroit.
TEDxDetroit, an independently produced offshoot of the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) event that showcases big thinkers and innovators around the globe, celebrated its fifth year in Detroit on Wednesday, October 2, at Cobo Center.
The event is a gathering of those creators, entrepreneurs, artists, technologists and thinkers who not only believe that Detroit can and will thrive and flourish, but also those who see change happening every day and want to shout it from the rooftops – or as Avalon International Breads cofounder Jackie Victor suggested, “change the narrative” that’s currently being written about our city.
From the opening reception at the sold-out event, as everyone was gathered to take the signature X photo, there were rumblings of excitement and chatter, introductions and questions over whether or not this was everyone’s first time there. The consensus was clear; everyone was eager to know what these Detroit innovators had to share on this sunny Detroit day.
Speakers included journalist John U. Bacon, GM Futurist John Capp, CEO of Chalkfly.com Ryan Landau, SVP of Detroit Labs Nathan Hughes, founders of Assemble, Garret Koehler and Kevin Krease, Jason Hall of Detroit Bike City, Hardcore Pawn’s Les Gold, and many more creative thinkers that you can read all about here. (Seriously, you should do it. They’ve got some pretty fantastic things to share with you.)
There were several themes woven throughout day. One common thread was how to overcome self-imposed obstacles, such as fear, doubt and the perils of living your life in an emotional “shell,” and learn that success often grows out of failure.
In a particularly poignant moment, Nathan Hughes of Detroit Labs read aloud a letter he’d written to his 18-year-old self, saying, “Nothing will ever happen if you don’t allow these things to change you and affect you and guide you.”
Ishita Gupta, founder and publisher of Fear.Less, a magazine profiling how hundreds of leaders have overcome fear, spoke passionately about how, “Creativity lies in the moments when we feel defeat. When you start building from there, that’s when you start playing in the realm of change makers.
Other discussions focused on the ways in which many small steps can create very large footprints. Matthew Naimi, founder of Recycle Here, created a public community space where people can interact, simply by putting up a dumpster and inviting people to recycle.
Garret Koehler and Kevin Krease managed to build momentum for their XG2D movement that may not have succeeded in bringing the X Games to Detroit, but it did lead them to creating a “platform to rebuild the city” with their own sports competition, Assemble, in Summer 2014.
John George, founder of Motor City Blight Busters, shared how this 22-year-old coalition began when he was motivated to board up an abandoned house in his neighborhood after drug dealers began taking up residence on the weekends.
“I personally believe blight is a form of child abuse,” he said, wondering out loud how seeing that kind of damage every day can affect a young child’s sense of self worth.
Then there was Asia Newsome, a 10-year-old Detroit “kidpreneur” and owner of Super Business Girl. She took to the stage with gusto and was interviewed by Wollborg. When asked what advice she had for all the adults in the audience, she smiled and said, “Keep us encouraged and inspired. You have to teach kids how to stay motivated.”
Peppered throughout the day, students of the InsideOut Literary Arts Project grabbed the microphone with an impressive amount of talent and confidence as they shared their poetry with the crowd.
Les Gold ended the event by asking everyone to get up every morning, look in the mirror and say, “How bad do you want it?”
It was a day of inspiration. It was a day of education and discussion. It was, as Wollborg pointed out, a “bacon-wrapped idea nugget for your head.”
But, what was most evident at TEDxDetroit is that there are people – a lot of people – who have been and continue to be hard at work in Detroit neighborhoods, working with each other to make each day better than the last. These are people who, from their own personal discovery, have come to find that movements and progress begin with seemingly small – yet ultimately monumental – moments of change.