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What we learned from TEDxSeattle


You know ‘em, you love ‘em, you’ve most likely spent hours watching Brené Brown unpack vulnerability and humanity on the infamous red circled TEDTalks rug. Is that just us? Oh.

We had the absolute pleasure of being invited to TEDxSeattle this past weekend and our lovely intern Jordan and I had been talking about how excited we were for weeks. We were so excited to meet different community members, learn some new things, and change our perspectives. It’s safe to say that Jordan and I are information nerds.

So – Jordan and I put our heads together to try and reiterate the most important takeaways from our experience at TEDxSeattle this past weekend.

Part 1: Awakening

Sam Dinning, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney of King County’s Juvenile Division

"We really do have the power to affect," was the statement that stood out to me the most throughout Sam's talk. He reminded me that every single decision and action we make really does affect other people whether that be for the good or bad. It was really powerful to hear a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney share how important it is to focus on an individuals story and needs rather than lumping them into a large group of similar cases. I could easily tell that he had a heart in a profession where that doesn't always show.

Sam’s speech was a great way to open TEDxSeattle. As a prosecuting attorney, he deals with a lot of juvenile crime. He wants people to treat the person for their character and not just the content of their crime. He also talks about how treating people with equity is better than with equality. He gave the example of person A & B who have committed the same crime - in this case, lets say a DUI. Person A is a rich, successful attorney and can pay for a law service and better jail accommodations (which yes, actually happens). Person B is an illegal immigrant who doesn’t make very much money and doesn’t have the luxury of paying for these things. If treated equally, person A and B will get the same punishment – but the lawyer will get off with less bumps and can pay his way out where person B cannot.

If we treat them with equity, and look at the person and their circumstances we can better serve these community members.

Another example would be putting an addict in prison without treatment. 2/3 of prisoners who are arrested are likely to re-offend their crime within three years of release. If you give an addict a treatment plan and resources, they have the opportunity to live a better life and stay out of crime!

Amy Ansel, Founder of Titan Bioplastics & Titan Hemp

Let's just preface this with, I might sound like a complete hippie by the time I finish my thoughts on Amy's talk. Her talk revolved around hemp and how it can change and save the world! Her passion towards the subject was obvious and contagious! I like to think I am a pretty eco-conscious lady but she made me want to take it to the next level. When she said that a plastic water bottle takes 450 years to biodegrade - I was floored. THAT'S LIKE, NEARLY FOREVER.

She explained that hemp can be made into so many things. I had no idea there was an alternative to concrete called hempcrete but it has so many benefits for our world, you guys! Not to mention the houses she showed were beautiful. It was just really eye opening and super cool. I definitely walked away from her talk with a new perspective!

Right off the bat I noticed Amy was mad cool. She had such a great energy and she definitely brought it to the stage. Amy’s speech was all about how hemp can change our world – especially in terms of the use of plastics.

Hemp, which is the cousin plant to marijuana grows like a weed (no pun intended) and can be used in many products and has the potential to COMPLETELY change the plastic industry and the health of our planet.

Cotton is described as a “dirty plant” because it absorbs a quarter of the worlds pesticides. It’s the largest GMO crop and it takes 5,000 gallons of water to make 2 lbs of fabric. Hemp takes next to nothing compared to this – unfortunately I didn’t catch the numbers but they are quite significant.

Hemp can replace paper, our cotton clothing, can build homes and propel our cars. My biggest take away was that hemp could be a completely sustainable alternative to two nasty elements that are overflowing our planet, cotton and plastic.

Chuck Murry, M.D., Ph.D., Director, UW Medicine’s Institute for Stem Cell & Regenerative Medicine

Dr. Murry's speech was very 21st century. He went into detail on his 20 year journey working with Stem Cells and how one day he will use them to repair human hearts! The research he put onto the screen was quite shocking (in a good way) and although I had a hard time listening to how he would put rats and monkeys through simulated heart attacks (ugh) it was overall a really cool talk to witness!

I am not going to do this man justice, because first of all, I am not a scientist and second of all, I'm not well versed in medical jargon. Chuck Murry is a brilliant man who has made HUGE advancements in stem cell research for heart disease.

Heart disease is the #1 killer in the US and after heart damage, hearts "heal" by producing scar tissue instead of new and healthy tissues. I’m not going to unpack the jargon and the science, but they have made HUGE strides in this area here at the University of Washington.

This advancement will not just manage symptoms of heart damage – it will get to the root of the problem and will be so pivotal in the medical industry it will rival the creation of vaccination and antibiotics. How cool is that ya’ll?!

Part 2: Discovery

Barry Johnson, Multi-Disciplinary Artist, Children’s book author & editor

Barry's speech was probably one of my favorite of the day. I definitely related to this one the most. He shared his life story and how during big life events he would channel a persona within himself to conquer the tall order at hand. He was not only hilarious but just super relate-able.

We have covered Barry Johnson's work in the past and not only is he a phenomenal artist but this dude knows how to give a speech!

Barry talked about how channeling personas can help you get shit done. For example think of Marilyn Monroe. When Norma Jean became Marilyn Monroe – she transformed into an iconic sex symbol. Beyonce channels Sasha Fierce – her persona that allows her to get up on stage and SLAY ALL DAY.

Barry argues that people need to find their inner child and that having only one identity can limit your potential. One of my favorite quotes from Barry was, “If you want to do something and don’t think you can – think of someone who has the tools and become them.”

Sara Sanford, Executive Director, Gender Equity Now

I know I just said Barry was one of my favorites but here is another one! I don't know if it is because she talked about a really prevalent topic right now but it was electric to hear how passionate she was as well as see the research she put up on the screen! Her talk was about women in the workplace, fairness in the workplace, and the wage gap. "Small tweaks lead to big changes," she said explaining that if everyone could practice more awareness towards the subject we could see a real difference. Research shows that by 2119 the wage gap will close and there will be equality in male and female wages. I'll be dead by then so...THAT'S NOT GONNA DO.

Sara was all about fixing discrimination against women in the work place (three cheers for Sara Sanford!). Sara was tired of hearing women say, “it’s probably just me,” instead of thinking about the environment they were working in.

Work place bias against women is a thing. What stood out to me was a staggering and disturbing statistic about employee reviews. A performance review turns into a personality review for women. Comments like, “you are bossy,” and "you are too aggressive,” "you are too loud," etc., show up on women’s performance reviews 76 percent of the time when men have these comments only 3 percent of the time.

Kind of crazy eh? Sara challenged us to go beyond the "Me Too" movement and is doing great work for our community. Moving forward, hopefully we can check this unconscious bias at the freaking door!

Colin MacDonald, Design Director at Parkour Visions, and play enthusiast

I had never really thought about parkour before Colin's talk! It was a refreshing way to think about our city! Think about how easily a city could be made into a jungle gym for our bodies and minds to practice on. It doesn't have to be intense but as simple as hopping up the steps. It's fun to think about how much we loved playing when we were kids and as we grow that slowly fades away. BUT - parkour lets you relive that as an active adult.

Colin McDonald is all about parkour. He talks about how we have become detached from our inner child and our desire to play! His suggestion is that we take advantage of city infrastructure and use it as a play thing. I appreciate this idea. Where are the swings at crosswalks!?

Part 3: Revelation

Jono Vaughan, Artist, transgender activist, and Assistant Professor at Bellevue College

This talk was quite intense and really deep. Jono, a transgender activist, educated the auditorium on the transgender death toll in America and the impact those deaths have had on herself and her community. Jono's work is to honor those who have died by creating beautiful garments based on so many details of a transgender persons death. Think - Google map pictures of the exact spot of the death as well a significant details from that persons life.

Jono's performance and speech were very emotional. In 2017, 28 transgender folks lost their lives to violence against the community. Jono has internalized this pain and created beautiful garments from this pain. She honors each and every person by creating a specific garment inspired by many aspects of their lives and death.

Kirk Grogan, Digital Strategist and marketing and sales consultant

This was a very informative talk! We ALL know that super weird moment when you were chatting about going to get Red Robin and then an advertisement for Red Robin is on your sidebar ten minutes later. Kirk, who is a marketer himself, really made me question how marketing actually affects our decisions.

I have to say, Kirk Grogan’s talk was definitely the most interesting to me. Obviously well all know that the internet, our apps and smart phones are stalking our information to better advertise to us and make us BUY BUY BUY. But what Kirk focused on was the “beliefs” that we could be buying from the internet.

Marketers can track you until they can predict your behavior which means you are constantly being influenced. I’m going to share with you some of the quotes that I quickly jotted down in my notebook:

“What if you are the way you are because of ads? What if they dictate your behavior?”

“Your data is essentially your life story. I hope you are the only one writing it.”

I’ll leave you with that. WTF.

Anastacia-Reneé, Seattle Civic Poet, former Hugo House Poet-in-Residence, and author

I felt pretty honored to see Anastacia-Reneé in person. I've heard so many wonderful things about her and her work and she did not disappoint. She had Beyoncé type confidence and was really cool to see and feel.

ANASTACIA RENEE! This girl just killed me (in the best way possible). Not only did she have a moving poem about what she has to tell her sons growing up as men of color in our culture, but she brought up some AMAZING points about prejudice against young black men in our society. She referenced Trayvon Martin and other young black men who’s lives were ended due to police brutality and violence. I was grateful that Anastacia chose this way to open up and share how she raises her children - it was incredibly vivid and empathy inducing. Her two quotes that I loved were:

“Change for me begins with pen and paper.”

“True allyship begins with compassion, empathy, and action.”

Part 4: Transformation

Anirudh Koul, Head of Artificial Intelligence & Research, Aira

With his work recently honored in Time Magazine, Anirudh is transforming the lives of the blind all around the world. He showed numerous videos of his technology and how it has literally saved lives! Not only was he personable but you could tell that he really believed in his work. It was awesome to see a businessman who loved his project and loved helping people even more.

After Skyping with his grandfather who was losing his eye sight, Anirudh decided to create an app for blind people. The app analyzes the photo almost instantaneously and verbally describes the scene in front of the person. The app has become so sophisticated that someone can point their phone, take a picture and it can recognize, age, gender, and facial emotion.

Anirudh’s main focus is using technology to bridge the gaps between disabilities and tasks. And he is KILLING the game.

Judy Twedt, Climate Researcher, atmospheric scientist and data sound artist

The final presentation was quite outstanding. Judy did something that I've actually never thought of. She took her research with climate change and turned it into a song on the piano so we could actually hear how climate has changed over the course of time. The piano started off beautifully and ended quite different. It was almost a little hard to hear because I was like, "Oh wow that took a turn." It was a really unique presentation seeing science turned into music.

Last but not least, Judy Twedt talked about how we all respond to rhythm. Being a lecturer at the UW, her students found it very hard to comprehend the numbers of climate research.

Judy turned her climate research and numbers into MUSIC so her students could connect to what climate change sounds like. You can tell when the ice caps melt because of the drastic change in the music. It was a little bit easier to comprehend this way! Judy says she does it this way because “the only hope for action is connection.” When we can connect with the numbers - we will be inspired to change.