Mine Your Mind: TEDxYouth Marks The Idea Spot

Theresa Willingham knows how good ideas excite the mind and elevate the spirit – and she wants to share that with others.

The mother of three is organizing an unusual conference at the New Port Richey Public Library on Nov. 20 that will showcase the voices, talents and vision of Bay Area youth.

TEDxYouth@TampaBay is the first event of its kind in Florida and one of only a handful of similar events around the country that same day.

"I think we need more ideas in the world, and we need more people to listen to ideas," Willingham says. "It's a very interactive experience. It should be enormous fun."

Adding to the interactivity is a public vote on the event's Web site now through Nov. 5 on one-minute to three-minute videos. Each video documents a positive change that a young filmmaker ages 13 to 25 implemented in the community since July 1.

The conference's theme is "Be the Change," a nod at the famous quote from Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi: "You must be the change you want to see in the world."

"I like hearing the kids who think anything is possible," says Willingham, a writer and vice president of Learning Is For Everyone, a nonprofit education resource.

She has established a Facebook page for the conference that links to socially and politically active youth she encountered while searching online and through word-of-mouth for presenters.

The lineup of speakers so far includes:

-- Bob Barancik, founder and director of the interactive art workshops and exhibits at CreativeShare;

-- Eric Stewart, a St. Petersburg College biology student who started Code Green Community to transition away from fossil-fuel use;

-- Steve Turner, founder of Giving Tree Music Inc., who uses drums and rhythm to help people develop a sense of empowerment;

-- Dan Cannon, Florida organizer for the Southern Energy Network and a supporter of the youth climate movement;

-- Brandon Wood, a 10-year-old whose blog, Make a Chimp Smile, raises awareness about chimps in medical labs and asks for support of the Great Ape Protection Act H.R. 1326;

-- Willingham's daughter Andrea, an Eckerd College junior who will speak about living abroad for four months.

Spreading TEDx In Tampa Bay

Willingham was inspired to organize the youth event after attending TEDxTampaBay, a conference of ideas held in February at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts. The teens she brought with her were "enraptured" by the presentations, she said.

Speakers included Tampa's Poet Laureate James Tokley, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, a creativity consultant, an engineer, artists and a lawyer.

Each gave a brief talk about happiness, "the endgame for everybody, what we strive for as humans," says organizer Gina Clifford, who works as a Web administrator for the University of South Florida libraries.

For instance, Wales, who was unable to attend in person because of an air-travel delay, related via a lively Skype chat how, as an entrepreneur, one mustn't be afraid to fail.

"The most inspirational thing I could give to young people is a discussion of all of my failures in life," he said during the chat. "Just enjoy yourself along the way and in the end you'll succeed."

That conference was a scaled-down version of the annual TED conferences in California each spring and the TEDGlobal conference in the United Kingdom each summer.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, TED began in 1984 as a gathering to spread ideas from three sectors: Technology, Entertainment and Design. Since its inception, speakers such as Al Gore, Bono from U2 and Jane Goodall have given 18-minute presentations on any subject that ignites their passion. The speeches are archived online for viewing worldwide.

The concept can be tough for some people to grasp, Willingham says.

"It's not an opportunity to be critical of the ideas you hear; it's simply to be open to them," she says. "I think that's an important step, especially for kids: How do you hear the ideas and not get involved in the drama?"

Begetting New Ideas

Spreading ideas through local TEDx groups is a concept that is taking root around the country, Clifford says.

She and other organizers are working on another TEDxTampaBay conference to be held on April 22 at the new Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.

The theme is "Synthesize. Mobilize. Humanize." In October, organizers asked for anyone interested in becoming one of the speakers or performers at the event to apply by submitting short videos summarizing their take on the theme at http://goo.gl/FiWT.

The application period ends Nov. 19.

The youth event the following day coincides with Universal Children's Day. Those wishing to attend must fill out a form on the conference's Web site. As with the original TED conferences, the talks will be webcast and archived.

Each speaker will provide action steps for anyone inspired by his or her presentation. The Web site also will encourage ongoing dialogue among local youth.

As Willingham herself experienced, one good idea often begets another.

"You can be a change in any number of ways," she says.

Valerie Kalfrin is a Lutz-based freelance journalist and a mother to an 11-month-old boy who enjoys riding in the stroller in his sunglasses. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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