TEDx: ‘Movement’ Comes to Millsaps

Cliff Johnson speaking at the TEDx event at Millsaps. Photo Courtesy of Bailey Smith.

On September 30, Millsaps held a TEDx event, organized by student Vajresh Balaji and the TEDx committee. The overarching theme of the whole event was “Movement,” specifically political, social and technological movements. Fourteen speakers from Mississippi and other states—as far as California—came to speak at this event.  

Kicking off TEDx, the first session was “Perspectives.” In this session, there were four speakers who talked about the important issues in Mississippi and how they differ based on various outlooks. The first speaker was Cliff Johnson, Director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, who spoke about the idea of “implicit bias” and how the interpretations of the words “radical” versus “moderate” are altered through our mental filters, even though we try not to be biased in everyday life. He ended his talk with three simple rules: be humble, be committed and be gracious. The other three speakers—Sierra Mannie, Alison Buehler, and Jake McGraw—continued their talks with those ideas, as well as introducing issues regarding public education, wellness and health, and Mississippi youth leaving the state in pursuit of bigger dreams, respectively.  

Session 2, “Dialogues,” started with speaker Chokwe Lumumba, Mayor of the city of Jackson. He spoke about electoral politics and how Jackson should strive to be the most radical city in Mississippi, as well as why people are usually afraid of the word “radical.”  

“Our goal and debate should not be victory. It should be progress,” Lumumba said. 

Lumumba talked about the need for conversations regarding these issues, because of the stigma that comes with the word “radical” that some people have. Other speakers in this session, like Beau York and Richard DeShazo, spoke about opening conversations about different issues, like health, through podcasting; Millsaps’ Dr. Jason Rosenberg closed the session with his talk about dialogue through music and how composers interact with history.  

Session 3 was called “Ecosystems,” and it was kicked off with speaker Qasim Rashid, national spokesperson for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA. His main focus was on “Collateral Education,” and how we as a community should struggle together against bigotry. In this talk, Rashid’s “ecosystem” was that of social media and the internet, and he focused on how people can take rude comments and turn them into a progressive conversation.  

“We should feed the trolls on social media, by having the humility, courage and resources to speak to these trolls and engage in collateral education,” Rashid said.  

Ashlee Kelley and Anna Stroble were the next two speakers in the “Ecosystems” session of the TEDx talks; Kelley spoke about bettering our local environment, and Stroble focused on helping the community in the wake of a natural disaster. 

The fourth session was “Direction,” honing in on different aspects of the future. The first speaker Neal Stephens talked about making learning experiences for students more about incremental learning, and the second speaker Octavi Semonin focused on the power of solar cells. Semonin, a Development Engineer at Alta Devices, spoke about the power and advantages of using solar cells. He said that solar cells provide resilience, democracy and freedom, and that’s why solar cells should be an essential part of life, especially in the United States. 

The final speaker of the TEDx talks was Brian Dolan, who spoke about the powers of Artificial Intelligence. 

Balaji, coordinator of the TEDx talks at Millsaps College, said he wanted to bring what turned out to be a very good conversation to Millsaps   

“With the recent political situation, I felt that movement would sort of capture all of that, and so that’s why I chose ‘Movement,’” Balaji said.  

He also hopes that Millsaps will continue with this event next year:  

“We definitely want a lot more people from outside Jackson and Mississippi [to speak], and with regards to the theme, it will be a similar subject to ‘Movement,’ but we’ll just have to go through this year to see what the theme should be, since TEDx themes are typically abstract,” he said. 

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