We all have that friend, the one that hates TED Talks. I’ll be the first to admit it, I am that friend. I can’t stand TED Talks. There’s something so self-important about the way speakers prance around on stage blessing audiences with their anecdotal enlightened garble. Sips water. *Salient Pause* I guess I’ve read far too much Russian literature to be anything but a fatalist, so one-size-fits-all self-actualizing rhetoric and pop-science seem rather useless in the face of doom. At best, TED Talks are conversation starters. And yeah, I get the speakers are generally trying to be “approachable.” But at worst, TED Talks promote a narrowed view of the world, one that’s based on the idea that what works for some Silicon Valley tech bro with too much time on his hands is relevant for the rest of humanity.
For me, TED Talks are much like what I imagine purgatory to be—an eternity spent trapped inside a stream of never-ending posi-spew. When you, unwilling audience member, open your mouth to scream, you find to your complete and utter horror that you can only speak in self-help jargon. Your soul is destined to cycle over and over again through an uplifting narrative where complexity is banished. In other words:”Why aren’t you smiling?!”
Sounds horrible, right? But I’ve been told not everyone feels this negatively towards TED Talks, and Minda Aguhob, organizer of TEDxBushwick, is a prime example of someone who is not me. “When I discovered TED Talks I thought that this was a powerful transformational forum, and that ideas can really change the world,” Minda told us. “From the beginning I knew it was event I wanted to organize.”
Minda, a fresh resident of Bushwick who splits her time between Brooklyn and Silicon Valley where she runs a startup, has put together TEDxBushwick, an event she hopes will shine a spotlight on some of the innovative things happening in the neighborhood. That Minda would be involved in a TED project is no surprise; she’s a self-described “techie” whose “personal mission is to elevate the level of love in action in the world.”
During our conversation, Minda brushed off generalizations about Bushwick, arguing that people tend to misinterpret the neighborhood, and fail to see it as multi-faceted. “People see it as the next Williamsburg, which is great,” she said. “But we chose Bushwick because we all have multiple connections to the neighborhood. Bushwick is an amazing place filled with art and life and restaurants. But there’s so much more even than that.”
The theme of TEDxBushwick, an independently-run but TED-licensed event, is “Translating Transformation,” which couldn’t be more appropriate given the rapid changes taking place in the extremely diverse Brooklyn neighborhood.
“For me, what transformation is about is people doing unreasonable things to make sure that things like safety are dealt with,” Minda explained. “But everyone will have different aspects of Bushwick they see; just like an elephant when you look at its tail or its leg, but the elephant is Bushwick, and it’s a total of all those experiences that people will be able to share at TEDxBushwick.”
The conference, which will take place in March of 2015, is still very much a work in progress. TEDxBushwick will end its application period at 11:59pm on October 15th and will inform five chosen winners on November 1st. As of this afternoon, Minda said they had received only 14 applications. “But we’re expecting a great number of high quality applications,” she insisted.
Of eight anticipated speakers, Minda has filled one spot. Jonathan Metzl, Professor of Sociology and Psychiatry at Vanderbilt University and author of The Protest Psychosis, has signed on to participate. Because you can’t get more Bushwick than Vanderbilt, am I right?
But Minda argued Metzl is an apt choice, “His book explains how schizophrenia is over-diagnosed in male African-Americans in a poor neighborhood of the Midwest,” she explained. “He actually also lives in Brooklyn, but there are multiple ties he has [to the neighborhood], even though he’s not based in Bushwick.”
Although TEDxBushwick is hoping to draw on the local community for speakers, Minda said they aren’t excluding people from the greater Brooklyn area and even those from outside the city, “as long as they represent or can share something that’s related to Bushwick and what’s happening here.”
Though Minda only moved to Bushwick from Manhattan in May, the new resident has been involved in a community improvement driven research project at local Woodhull Hospital for much longer. “I’ve been working at the hospital for about four years on a really amazing research project called The Timeout Project, where the Medical Director invited me and my research team to video tape the doctors that are conducting safety checklists,” she explained. “And it is so representative of the incredible spirit that is in Bushwick.”
The Timeout standards were adopted by the city’s Health and Hospital Corporation back in 2005, but Minda’s project to monitor the standards’ implementation began in 2010. The hospital is now rated by the State as a “high performer” when it comes to “common patient safety.”
She pointed out another innovative approach to healthcare pursued by Woodhull, the Artist Access Program, which provides artists with insurance counseling, and “allows artists to exchange performances or other types of artistic activity for health care credits that can be used to pay for doctor’s visits or prescriptions.”
Yet despite Minda’s quickness to praise Woodhull, the hospital recently rejected her proposal to utilize the space as a venue for TEDxBushwick.
“They simply are wanting to support only healthcare related events,” she explained. “We would be so incredibly happy and privileged for Woodhull to host the event, and we’re hoping again, that they will change their mind. But hospitals, especially city hospitals have a history of being really touchy about very public events like this. Just because, for them, any publicity is actually bad for them. They really try and stay out of the spotlight.”
Minda said she and her team are currently seeking a new venue, but she declined to say which venues TEDxBushwick is courting. Though somehow we’re not surprised by the hazy future of the event, it’s all so appropriately vague—just as a TED Talk should be.