TEDxMemphis: What's Next?

By Amy Schaftlein, Director of Development + Communications

There was a buzz of anticipation in the morning air as audience members arrived at the sold-out conference that was the first of its kind in Memphis. As people walked in, they encountered a wall of cheerfully hued red sticky notes clustered around the question, “What’s Next for you?” Participants busied themselves by putting their ideas up on the board; the ideas ranged from earnest to zany, including “M.D.,” “Graduate,” “Artist” and even “Pizza.” On Saturday, August 29, passionate individuals from all over Memphis (including one from UHI), the Mid-South and beyond came together to explore fresh ideas that may have potential to shape Memphis and the world at the TEDxMemphis event at the University of Memphis’ Rose Theatre.

The theme for this event? What’s Next for Memphis. But what is next for Memphis? Seventeen speakers from the arts, health, community development and business sectors presented topics on issues that are important to our city. Music, sports, and dance intersected with civic issues, city obstacles and education. Dr. Sarah Petschonek with Volunteer Odyssey spoke of volunteerism rooted in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. She posited one way you can reach self-actualization may be through finding your passion in volunteerism in a Memphis nonprofit organization, maybe even finding a job doing what you love at the same time! Ephie Balllard-Johnson with Neighborhood Christian Centers is working in early childhood development with Operation Smart Child in partnership with the Urban Child institute to ensure babies start off on the right foot before entering kindergarten. She has assisted more than 50,000 neighbors in need annually. Marco Pave spoke about how arts and following his dream kept him alive in harsh North Memphis streets. Pave advocates for more investment in the arts because it’s a good investment – Memphis art nonprofits leverage the city’s investment 10 times over. Art keeps kids motivated in school, helps them to think critically and often saves them from a life of crime in ways it saved Pave himself.

What were my favorite talks, you might ask? The talks I enjoyed most were about health care as well as the new Crosstown development in North midtown.

Dr. Scott Morris spoke eloquently on the subject of holistic health. Our bodies are not machines, and the problem is partially our obsession with technology he says. Doctors must get to know the patients’ “whole health” to answer the question “why am I sick?” - the one question many doctors cannot answer. Why? The patients’ whole health can tell you who they are, where they are from, where they live, what they eat, and who they love. These questions bear some semblance to why they may have become sick – because many of the people that come to see Dr. Morris at the Church Health Center cannot be diagnosed with anything. Stress and anxiety are often from a broken heart – and it is hard to cure and find treatment for a broken heart, a broken neighborhood, or a broken spirit with an Rx pen. The Church Health Center averages 30,000 patient visits per year – the majority low income and uninsured. Dr. Morris and the Church Health Center are a major part of the Crosstown Concourse vision to create an urban village anchored in the arts, education and healthcare.
Which brings me to my next favorite talk - Dr. Todd Richardson, the co-leader of the Crosstown Concourse and co-founder of Crosstown Arts. He compared the transformation of the 1.5 million square foot Sears Crosstown building with the dome of the Florence Cathedral. The Italian Renaissance, like all renaissances, was not about looking at the future but about resurrecting the past, looking within, and transforming and reusing the spaces that have been abandoned or forgotten.
Finally, the New Ballet Ensemble and School’s founder and CEO Katie Smythe is working to bring ballet to all Memphis and Mid-South children. She aligns with educators and human service organizations to reach children on the margins. She listens to their thoughts and ideas about dance, often rooted in family and history. This creates a unique mix of ballet, Memphis jookin, breakdancing and so much more to the art form of ballet – making it rooted in place and time. However, Smythe knows that access does not equal equity. She understands that the kids have to go home at night to a situation that may not always help the child lead a healthy lifestyle. Smythe began adult education programs, especially in financial literacy, which may help some parents aid their children and themselves in creating a better environment for everyone.

From the United Housing perspective, financial literacy and healthy housing is essential to all of the arts, education and healthcare aspects of the work our fellow innovators are doing. Like access to a home, access to the arts does not always equal equity, as the subprime fallout has showed. Creating tools to empower our neighbors and to educate one another in cultural competency will allow for equity to grow in our neighborhoods. Financial literacy will create a much more sustainable homeowner and neighbor by decreasing foreclosure 30 percent.

Health and housing have never been talked about more than right now. Healthy homes are at the crux of a positive whole health experience. If you cannot keep your lights on or your roof from leaking or mold from getting into your walls and cabinets, then health outcomes cannot be enhanced no matter how many prescriptions you fill. Healthy housing must be a component in the Crosstown Concourse’s urban village. How will this village permeate the surrounding, existing neighborhoods? What jobs, housing and financial literacy resources will be available in the urban village?
What is Next Memphis? With so many innovative speakers and so much work to do in our community, connecting and building on one another’s assets should make sure that whatever we are doing now can inform and positively impact what comes next.
TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.
TEDx events are independently run and help share ideas in communities around the world. TEDx events are local and self-organized. They bring people together from that particular city, town or community to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks from live speakers and video combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local events are branded TEDx, where x=independently organized TED event.

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