Activist community

Baltimore community members discuss activism and resilience at TEDxJHU main event

TEDxJHU held its spring main event, titled “Amplified,” on April 2. The event featured speakers from the Baltimore area, including activist Legacy Forte, neuroscientist David Linden, artist Hannah Brancato, author D. Watkins and educator Melanie Shimano. Hip-hop dance group Hopkins SLAM performed and student-produced short film The people of Baltimore was presented during intermission.

Forte, an advocate for LGBTQ youth in Baltimore and the first speaker, described their experience of sexuality and gender identity as well as the feeling of being an outsider. They stressed the importance of looking beyond the constraints imposed by societal expectations.

“We tend to become twisted individuals pushed into a box of secondary expectations rather than shaped by our own individual morals, values ​​and beliefs,” they said.

By establishing various advocacy organizations such as Youth Against Oppression and BMORE BLXCK, Forte has made it a priority to create safe spaces to empower young people.

“Knowing that I provided space, community, resources and safety in a way that my community lacked is indescribable,” they said. “This organization and its resources provide young people with the ability to identify and understand their own identity and learn to fight any weapon or legislation of ignorance.”

The second speaker was Linden, Hopkins Professor of Neuroscience and former editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology. His interest in science communication lent itself to his discussion of how contemporary genetics can be used to combat pseudoscience and racism.

After explaining how social factors affect heritability, in the same way that a person’s height gene expression is affected by the availability of food, he refuted racist claims that base their arguments on ideas faulty genetics.

“No one’s ancestry in the world is pure and deep. DNA analysis of ancient bones, which we only really know existed for 15 years, shows that there is no mystical racial purity. Today, almost all people’s lives are the product of repeated mixing,” he said.

Linden punctuated his speech with the idea that science plays an important role in dispelling these ideas, but it is only part of the solution.

“The scientific case against racism is strong, and it’s getting stronger and stronger, but that’s far from the whole story. I don’t want to leave you with the idea that, okay, the science has spoken and it’s solved and it’s over,” he said. “Racism is best understood through the lived experience of those who have lived it. only seat, one of many seats at the anti-racism table, but it is a crucial seat.

Brancato, artist and third speaker, co-founded the organization FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture among other projects as part of her mission to fight sexual assault and white supremacy through art. Brancato spoke about the loss of his sister, his experiences as a victim of domestic violence, and his work in education and activism.

Through a variety of public art installations, many of which incorporate textiles, Brancato has helped those coping with grief find a sense of community.

She recognizes that activism is a difficult and vulnerable process that must be approached with caution.

“It’s important to mention this mess of activism,” she said. “The more I have come to understand and process the experience, of course, the more I see now that it is the work: the will to be transformed again and again, to be unraveled, to feel our feelings, to be changed.”

Speaker Liaison Melis Dik guided speakers through the process of writing their TEDx talks. In an interview with The News-Lettershe described the impact Brancato’s story had on her.

“His speech almost brought me to tears,” Dik said. “It was really personal and intimate, and the things that she was talking about maybe aren’t always brought up, and that was the point – to amplify those voices.”

Watkins is a New York Times bestselling author and editor of Salon. In his dedication to empowering others by sharing his love of words, he emphasized the need to encourage engagement with a diverse variety of literature.

The urgency of his message was introduced by a set of statistics on illiteracy in the United States.

“Twenty percent of Americans are illiterate,” he said. “The illiteracy rate costs the country $2.2 trillion a year. So if you want to talk about eliminating student debt, that’s where you have to start.

After his writing achieved immense success and he realized that someone in his community was illiterate, Watkins decided to focus his energy on Baltimore.

“You get all the accolades from those people outside of your neighborhood where you’re from, but those are the people who should be your first priority, and that caused me to redirect my whole career,” he said. declared. “I didn’t want to be the inside person writing to people anymore. I wanted to focus on my neighborhood and make sure people who come from where I come from can fall in love with books, just like me.

Shimano, a Hopkins alumnus and researcher at the Harvard Project on Workforce, discussed ways to redesign the classroom experience to provide students with a more dynamic, work-based learning experience.

The success of his Food Computer Program initiative, which teaches Baltimore high school students to code in the context of building computer-controlled hydroponic gardens, has inspired him to ensure that these highly interactive learning opportunities continue. beyond the classroom.

She partnered with a nonprofit educational coding program and a team of Baltimore city government data analysts, allowing high school students to be immersed in real-world applications of what they were studying.

“One of the most interesting things that came out of this program was at the end of the program, the students presented to a panel of Baltimore city leaders in government and technology, and they were very impressed with the work they’ve done,” she said. “You can see that shift in mindset from looking at these kids and students as sophomores and kids in high school, to co-workers in city government.”

In an interview with The News-Letter, Sara Cao, an M.Ed. student, highlighted her interest in Shimano’s speech given the intersection it had with her own activities.

Cao described the importance of having these kinds of discussions about inclusion.

“[The event] had a really good selection of speakers,” she said. “It really struck me because racism and diversity is such a big thing in America, and as an international student myself and from my own experience, I generally think that’s my own problem, like it’s my own thing, because we’re isolated in our own bubbles.

In an interview with The News-Letter, TEDxJHU co-curator Merry Qian discussed how audience members were both potential recipients and disseminators of ideas related to the speakers’ stories.

Amplifying silence is something that all of our audience members participated in on Saturday when they heard the speakers, but then, on another note, everyone has the power to amplify not just their own voice, but the someone else’s voice,” she said.