TEDx Minneapolis: Sidewalks, affordable prosthetic hands, reforming child welfare and more

tedx mplsA TEDx event is an independently run event that sanctioned by the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) folks to use their format to host a series of short-ish lectures. Last night the University of Minnesota hosted one at the Tedd Mann. Here’s rough notes on the talks – with a special nod to Dr. Lindeke and his talk on sidewalks. As someone who tries to walk 10 miles a day, I appreciated his talk most!

Amelia Franck Meyer spoke about the need to reform child welfare. She pointed out that children at risk are often removed from their families and put into the care of strangers to ensure their safety. BUT what they often lost in the transition was a sense of belonging. That lack of belonging triggers a biological reaction that leads to hyper-alertness to stimulus and often causes kids to over-react – to understate it. Her thesis is that children can be save through therapy and finding a relative to care for them. Great idea – but I’m afraid it would make some systemic changes at a very high level of social support. I wonder if that sense of belonging trumps personal safety. Obviously not in terms of being in an abusive environment but say the grandma wants custody but does quite meet licensing requirements.

Dr. Cecilia Martinez spoke about the environment and the importance of hearing a range of perspectives when discussing the environment. She is from New Mexico and spoke specifically about how her heritage perceived the making and testing of the atomic bomb. As well as the different take on the atomic bomb as seen from the eye of someone who developed it and someone who was a victim of the bombing in Japan. She had a dancer perform while she spoke that demonstrate the impact of non-verbal story-telling.

Dr Desinieni Subbaram Naidu introduced us to the prototype for an affordable prosthetic hand. It is built with a 3D printer and the blue prints are (maybe will be) Open Source. The hand works through sensors that are attached, like a super adhesive band-aid to nerve ending through the fore arm. The idea is to create a prosthetic hand that costs $250 and doesn’t require surgery to work. We saw the hand work on stage. It’s amazing to think what an impact that will have on so many people all over the world.

Andrea Jenkins is a transgender poet who spoke about the history of the LGBT history, with an emphasis on transgender history. She spoke of her firsthand experience growing up knowing that she self-identified as a female long before the outward appearance caught up with that image and what it was like and is like for people in similar positions. She spoke specifically about hate crimes and the need to recognize human rights for transgenders for simple things – like bathroom access. She had a great time about just as all roses are flower, yet now all flower are roses the same I true that all transgender people are human but not all humans are transgender.

Dr. Bill Lindeke spoke about his research as an urban geographer studying sidewalks. We showed pictures that demonstrated the wide range of accessibility with sidewalks. If you think of it. We’ve all experienced it especially in Minnesota. Some sidewalks freeze no matter how often you shovel; they are uneven. Some sidewalks are built around trees, becoming inaccessible to anyone in a wheelchair or with a stroller. And some sidewalks are just more appealing than others. I travel a lot of small towns; I walk a lot. I think St Paul, especially near Mac Groveland, has great sidewalks with some community efforts to make then safer and easier to use and some residential efforts to make them more appealing – for example Free Little Libraries. When asked what he thought might help improve an interest in walking – Dr. Lindeke was quick to answer – Pokemon Go!

Dr. Keith Mayes spoke about the importance of using African American literature, history and experience to draw people into the classroom – especially at younger ages. His emphasis was on drawing in students of color although he recognized that a diversity in the standard canon would enhance everyone’s education. I have a unique experience here because I went to single-sex school for high school and college, which meant I studied more women than someone who went to coed institutes did. I’m not advocating segregated schools but I know that it’s powerful to learn about people who are similar to yourself. I can only imagine it’s even more powerful when everyone gets an opportunity in the coed, regular classroom to appreciate different cultures and be appreciated for their culture and perspective.

Dr. Jadin Jackson is a neuroscientists who talked about using the power of big data to help patients with neurological issues better communicate. He uses the predictive/suggestive power of big data that most of us see with Amazon or Spotify to help people with limited physical skills communicate.

Romeny Chan is a story teller who spoke about her family’s journey to America and how as a second generation American she learned about her family’s recent history kind of in spite of the first generation whose main goal was to become American.

The nighg ended with am improve recap from The Theatre of Public Policy. It was a great way to reflect on the broad swath of talks.

Guerrilla Girls Takeover: 30 years of unabashed feminist scrutiny deserves a thanks

guerilla girlsThe last time I saw my Grandma Treacy she asked me (from her hospital bed) about an essay I had just written about “women writers” for a class at St Kate’s. She was annoyed because I didn’t see why we had to differentiate between men and women writers. “It’s like writing about yellow chairs!” I insisted. In my defense I was 18. My grandma obviously knew better.

At about just that time I was insisting there was no need for feminism, the Guerrilla Girls were curating their first all women show. So they didn’t start at the beginning of the feminist movement nor did they start at the end, for better or for worse they are part of an ongoing effort that is taking generations!

The Guerrilla Girls are a group of women who wear gorilla masks, take on the names of dead women artists and perform (usually) unsolicited Public Service Announcements around in the world highlighting the sexism and racism in art and other sectors. PSAs take the form of posters, billboards, talks and takeovers. They have been in the Twin Cities for about a month raising awareness.

They landed on January 21 with events at The Walker, MIA and Minneapolis College of Art and Design. There is an exhibit at The Walker. At MIA they audited the collection – all 900,000 items to some embarrassing results and have used that data in their local exhibitions. (Fair play to MIA for participating!) MCAD hosted a show called and had GRRRL Party in to perform. A week ago they hosted a presentation and Q & A at the State Theatre; I brought my 11 year old, which helped frame for me the generational nature of the effort.

It started with a few songs by Chastity Brown. We love her; she was great. The presentation was informative – my preteen was enthralled and incensed at the discrepancy between men and women. For example, of the top 100 works of art sold in the last year, how many were done by women? None. The Guerrilla Girls call out art as the fourth largest black market. Private art buyers sit on board of public art galleries, helping to set the prices based on future exhibitions and proposed purchases. They are in a position to stack the deck – and they are stacking it male.

The Guerrilla Girls use humor to get into the brain of offenders and those who stand by and watch. “Only by getting into their brain can you change their mind” they said. It was all interesting but the most interesting part of the night came from a questioner.

After the presentation attendees were invited to ask questions – one young African American woman asked about diversity among the Guerilla Girls. Her point being that Guerrilla Girls weren’t doing enough to embrace, encourage or represent minorities. I think her points were valid – but I also think she knew what she wanted to say before the presentation and she didn’t hear the part about getting into someone’s brain to change their mind. She was antagonistic. Their answer was unsatisfactory; really they seemed unprepared for the question. It was an awkward standoff of women who should be on the same page.

My 11 year old also asked a question too, “How can I bring the Guerrilla Girl message to the sixth grade.” They told her that she need to make the message her own. She should talk to her classmates about what spoke to them and use that.

That is the answer they should have given to the other questioner. The Guerrilla Girls have been building a platform for 30 years. They should have invited the questioner into the group or at least made her privy to the platform and she should have said yes (to group or platform). They sort of did – but not as boldly as they should have.

Things have changed in 30 years because of efforts from groups like the Guerrilla Girls and to effect further change the group needs to embrace, encourage and represent new agents to spearhead change, but in return  the new change agents need to appreciate and choose at least some lessons to learn from those who have built the road before them.

Societal change will continue to be generational! We need to take on new challenges but we can never let our guard down on past success.