Welcome to the State of (Un)knowing – TEDxJacksonville

On Oct. 25, 350 Intellectual explorers converged in the WJCT building in Downtown Jacksonville to embark on a day-long voyage through the unknown. This year’s TEDxJacksonville focused on the theme of “(Un)Knowing,” utilizing a diverse array of passionate speakers and performers to aid the audience in answering the question: “What knowledge, if unlearned, would open minds?”

Inside the auditorium, red and white lighting perfectly illuminated the speaker platform. Event brochures were placed on the seats, providing context for the audience, and detailing the many local musical acts and video talks that would supplement the live speakers. At 10:20 a.m. the lights dimmed slightly, and Co-hosts Al Letson and Hope McMath stepped out on stage to deliver opening remarks.

Co-hosts Al Letson and Hope McMath entertain a lively TEDxJacksonville audience. (Photo By Tiffany Manning)

The first session, entitled “(un)restricted,” featured talks by Warren Anderson, Cullen Hoback and Chip Southworth. Anderson, a local lawyer and pro-environment leader, opened with a story about his transcendental experience in the woods of Jacksonville as a child. “That was my first communion; that was my first conscious connection to the whole,” said Anderson to a captivated audience. Hoback, filmmaker and digital rights advocate, delivered a talk on the true nature of the digital privacy debate–explaining the way companies hijack our digital selves, and what measures we can take to reclaim our online presence.

Chip Southworth, best known for his street art created under the name of “Keith Haring’s Ghost,”  finished off the first session with a talk that motivated audience members to question what they knew about the definition of art. “Jacksonville is ready for some street art,” Southworth said, referencing a new law poised to overturn many public art restrictions currently in place.

Chip Southworth, AKA “Keith Haring’s Ghost,” speaks to the audience about the artistic and cultural validity of street art. (Photo By Tiffany Manning)

After a lunch break catered by local restaurants, the second session began. “(Un)charted” provided a distinct mix of topics. Ted Powell, an inspirational speaker, consultant and leadership coach, shared his experience of reaching a deeper self-awareness. He found that we all posses a “drunken monkey”–that primitive part of our brain that acts out of a fear of the unknown. Ed McMahon, veteran, author, entrepreneur, and current Charles E. Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development at the Urban Land Institute, explained the need for nature preservation in the United States. “Scenic landscapes in Florida have quantifiable economic value,” McMahon said, adding that overdevelopment destroys our surroundings–forcing us to “lose our sense of place.”

“I’m a walking tour guide,” said Ali Butcher, in his talk on how “shifting cities reflect shifting values.” Hailing from Vancouver, Canada, Butcher encouraged the audience to start looking at Jacksonville–and in particular the potential for a fusion of art and sustainability–in new ways.

Ed McMahon addresses issues surrounding land development and the preservation of Florida’s natural places. (Photo By Tiffany Manning)

By session three, “(un)bound,” the audience had settled into the world of TEDx fully. New friendships were kindled in adjacent seats, and coffee breaks facilitated the birth of creative endeavors. Judi Herring, Spring Behrouz and Sara Gaver presented talks that worked to widen the reality tunnels of those in the auditorium.

Herring spoke about her experiences with intersex babies born into a system that would rather alter them with surgery, than accept them for who they are. Behrouz, a Neuroscientist and entrepreneur, asked the audience to imagine a future where diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s have been cured. To conclude the session, Gaver, a full-time UNF student who has Arthrogryposis, utilized her talk to confront peoples’ misconceptions about the disabled head-on. “It’s not our disabilities that tear us down, but how people react to us,” Gaver said. “I’ve been driving a wheelchair since I was four years old, and it’s made me very independent.”

Sara Gaver speaks frankly about public perceptions of the disabled. (Photo By Tiffany Manning)
Sara Gaver speaks frankly about public perceptions of the disabled. (Photo By Tiffany Manning)

The fourth and final session of the event, “(un)rest,” began with Herb Donaldson, writer and radio host, recounting the story of how his uncle came to be executed for a crime that many believe he did not commit. “We should not grow so arrogant as to call our sanitized killing justice,” Donaldson emphasized. Next, Michael Smith, Senior Pastor at The Church of Jacksonville, addressed the complexities surrounding the high incidence of black murder in America.

The day’s final speaker, Aman Mojadidi, an Afghan artist, approached the stage to the music of Blind Blake–a little-known 1920’s era blues and ragtime musician from Jacksonville. As a child growing up in the racially intolerant South during the 70’s and 80’s, Mojadidi identified with writers like Zora Neale Hurston, who expressed his sentiment to go “Chasing after those distant ships” he would see passing him by in the St. John’s. After a year of living in Paris, Mojadidi has come back to Jacksonville–not permanently, but as a visitor. “Maybe, just maybe, I had stereotyped Jacksonville in the same way Jacksonville had stereotyped me,” he said.

Aman Mojadidi begins his talk with a slow fade out of Blind Blake's "Early Morning Blues." (Photo By Jose Lepervanche)
Aman Mojadidi begins his talk with a slow fade out of Blind Blake’s “Early Morning Blues.” (Photo By Jose Lepervanche)

Following an emotional performance of “A Change is Gonna Come” by local musicians, TEDxJacksonville reached its end. Co-hosts Al Letson and Hope McMath led the attendees outside for a group photo. Everyone gathered on a hill overlooking the St. John’s River in the golden-yellow light of late afternoon, and posed as the sun set over the river city.

Visit http://tedxjacksonville.com/ for information on upcoming TEDx events, videos from the conference, and speaker profiles. 

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