Rediscover the Magic with TEDx

By on March 3, 2014
TED Talks in Magic City

The event began with a screening of a recently released promotional video created by UAB Digital Media students for the much anticipated conference. The two-minute video captured Birmingham’s hallmark attractions, such as Lyric Theatre, Regions Field, and Sloss Furnace.  As it played, local poet, musician, and performer Sharrif Simmons recited a self-written poem, inspired by Birmingham.

“The future holds passion like the look in her citizens’ eye,” Simmons said. “Welcome back to the magic of a little big city.”

On March 1, the Alys Stephens Center hosted the first annual Birmingham TEDx talks.

Out of 75 nominations for speakers,  a mere 15 local speakers, each from a broad mix of backgrounds and expertise, were selected to helped attendees and viewers find the essence of Birmingham, helping them to “Rediscover The Magic” of Birmingham.

The day started with Graham Boettcher, Curator of American Art at the Birmingham Museum of Art, who spoke of value of art. Boettcher’s talk was followed by an emotional journey of Hueytown native and UAB graduate, Jordan Reeves,  who works for TED in New York.

Reeves talked about the hatred and violence that gay people often encounter even in a city as liberal as New York City. Once he had believed that New York would be a haven from the prejudice he felt growing up in the South. But he soon realized, “There is prejudice everywhere.”

“I know now it’s not about leaving Alabama,” Reeves said. “It’s much harder. You have to leave your old way of thinking. Decide to hate prejudice, no matter where it lives.”

Filmmaker and director of UAB Media Studies, Michele Forman talked about the power of storytelling.

”They’re the basic equipment for living (and) allow us to leap over barriers,” Forman said, citing such divisions as class, race, gender and place. “We can see ourselves in these different roles.”

She told her family’s story about how her grandmother found an escape route from a concentration camp and Forman’s own feelings of alienation as a teenager growing up in Birmingham in the 1980s.  After studying film at Harvard University, Foreman found herself returning to Birmingham while working for noted filmaker Spike Lee. Lee sent her back to her hometown while working on Lee’s production of the documentary “Four Little Girls,” about the 1963 bombing of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

“I didn’t want to run away from Birmingham,” said Forman, who chose to return to Birmingham.

In her film classes at UAB, she extends her camera lens with her students and “they give voice to the poor. They tell stories of immigration. They showcase Birmingham’s beauty.” She encourages them to “not shy away from tough questions” and to share “crucial community stories.”

Before lunch, the audience was treated to a moving cello performance by Birmingham native and music prodigy, 12-year old Malik Kofi. Kofi credited his musical journey to his grandmother, who “planted and nurtured the seed,”

Kofi received a standing ovation from everyone in the crowd.

When the talks continued, Dr. Pat Hymel, entrepreneur-physician and co-founder/ CEO of Medsnap, discussed his experiences with failure and managing a start-up.

He recounts misdiagnosing an emergency room patient in New Orleans in the 1990s, which lead to the patient’s death.

“You are not as objective as you think,” Hymel said. “Untested assumptions and biases can keep us from seeing both problems and opportunities. The mistakes we acknowledge as such are actually opportunities to update our map of the world and get to what our biases are.”

Other speakers scheduled in the second and third sessions included Chris Hasting, chef & owner of the Hot and Hot Fish Club; Glenny Brock, writer and volunteer coordinator for the Lyric Theatre restoration; and Theresa Bruno, chair of the corporate board of the Stephens Center.

The final speaker was Laura Kate Whitney who spoke about moving to Birmingham and finding her life’s story. She’s proud to call Birmingham her home.

“Birmingham opened up to me and opened me up,” Whitney said.

The event ended with everyone in the audience dancing together to “Happy” by Pharell.  The audience walked out of the Alys Stephens Center with two important realizations: that watermelon coots are not real, and there is something magical about Birmingham that’s brewing up again.

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