A Rampant Ripple

Although a few hundred people packed a WJCT studio to see 10 mostly local speakers at the tops of their fields, any number of attendees could have delivered impressive speeches themselves.

CEOs and heads of nonprofits, artists and entrepreneurs, musicians and physicians, students and merchants, MBAs and actors, journalists and philanthropists: They all sat shoulder-to-shoulder soaking in words of wisdom and calls to action.

That’s a sign of both the success and the shortcomings of TEDxJacksonville: Preaching to the converted.

The crowd was a who’s who of Northeast Florida — the people who have been making things happen here for years. At my lunch table — where everyone happened to be a woman — we heard tales of an entrepreneur who sold her company to go back to school, a Girl Scouts employee who quit to teach high school, a woman who as a teenager saved the boy she was babysitting from a swarm of bees and many other fascinating stories.

The people who attended the Oct. 26 event already “get it” (bit.ly/TEDxJAX). But how do you get the uninitiated to attend a day of thought-provoking presentations and comfort-stretching discussions?

The talks were ripped from the headlines: Attorney Hank Coxe and Lawanda Ravoira of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center shed light on the incarceration of juveniles; Patricia Siemen, a Dominican Sister and attorney, questioned why nature, such as the St. Johns River, does not have the same rights as people; Nancy Soderberg, a University of North Florida professor and former U.S. ambassador, connected world conflict such as the violence in Congo to our interests in the United States; Bruce Ganger, executive director of Second Harvest North Florida, calculated that hunger could be solved by simply moving the food that already exists, much of it wasted, to where it is needed.

These talks and others on climate change (Robert Inglis), civic engagement (Ben Warner), improvisation as a gateway to better interaction (Barbara Colaciello) and the art of connecting communities (Chevara Orrin) entreated action from the audience — action that many of them have already taken. I’d guess the level of volunteerism, donation and participation from that group is fairly high.

The trick is how to translate those messages exponentially throughout Northeast Florida and beyond. The videos that TEDxJacksonville.com will post are a start.

But each of these topics could inspire action. You could donate money or time to Second Harvest North Florida, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, the Guardian Ad Litem program, The Girls Gone Green or many other worthy organizations. You could volunteer for the Florida Coastal Cleanup. Heck, you could take Colaciello’s advice and take an improv class (Mad Cowford, anyone?) and see how it might open up the pathways in your mind.

It won’t be easy. Not everyone will agree about the path forward.

“Some of what is said at #TEDxJax frustrates me deeply, but that is great because ideas worth spreading should cause friction,” Andrew Rush (@IPInSpace) tweeted at the event.

Indeed. Ideas as big as this cannot be contained to one room, one event, one day — or one perspective. They should be discussed, debated and developed.

“Today I learned about plastics in the ocean, incarcerating our youth, climate change, the rights of nature, hunger right here in our city, and more,” Erin Salem Cohen wrote on Facebook. “I am overwhelmed, inspired, and damnit if I don’t feel like I have so much to do.”

It’s easy to feel frustrated when faced with such daunting problems. But each speaker focused on the power of one — to change hearts, to change minds, to change policy, to change communities.

The theme for the event was “Connecting Currents,” and the stream of topics, the speakers and the audience created many connections large and small. It’s time to turn that trickle into a tidal wave.

In a video created by Dripsblack for the event (bit.ly/TEDxJAXvideo), slick images of Northeast Florida are intermingled with these words:

Every drop, when it flows, becomes an ocean.
A butterfly’s wings can set off tornadoes.
Jacksonville is at a crossroads.
Our environment connects us.
Our actions drive us.
Together we will generate our own currents.
Harness the power of participation.
We can shape the future of our city.

Now, which way will the currents take us?