TEDx talks mix brains with passion in 8th year

Ian Thibodeau
The Detroit News

Detroit — “If you only talk with people who share your worldview, you’re intellectually dead,” said Charlie Wollborg, TEDx Detroit curator, as he stood on stage during intermission at the Fox Theater on Thursday.

Eight years since it started in Detroit, the offshoot of the popular Ted Talks brought together more than 30 speakers, performers and creative types to present quick, passionate pitches, stories and “unsettling influences” to a crowd of 2,500 from Metro Detroit.

In 2009, Wollborg wanted to combat the negative news swirling around Detroit by showcasing men and women working to do good in the city. The event has grown to the point where Wollborg and his coworkers had to sort through over 300 applications from willing speakers.

Wollborg said he tried to mix up the roster of speakers with entrepreneurs, academics, tech specialists, artists and what he called “wild cards.” It’s important, Wollborg added, that the event challenged the audience.

“Whatever you can believe about Detroit, the opposite is also true,” he said.

The 2016 talks began with Khary Turner, executive director of the Coleman A. Young Foundation, who shared with the audience a more compassionate side of one of Detroit’s most polarizing mayors.

Turner prompted the audience to think twice about Coleman Young, and that kicked the event off in the right direction, according to Mike Ellison, a poet, performer and artist who was set to perform Thursday afternoon.

“In Detroit, we get the ‘either-or,’” he said, “but Detroit is never either-or. It’s ‘and.’ You have to look at the layers and what we accomplished through the years.”

Young, in Turner’s brief talk, represents that duality, Ellison said.

This year, 600 high school students representing five Metro Detroit counties and Canada attended the talks. Ellison, who said “youth, innovation (and) unity,” will continue to bring the city and region back, was excited to deliver a spoken word piece and musical performance in the city “that turned me into an artist” on a stage packed with creative energy.

“I’m feeling elation,” he said.

Eric Thomas, senior partner of Saga Marketing, was one of the last scheduled to speak Thursday. Wollborg said he provides a unique point of view.

Thomas gained a massive social media following during the last year for a couple of blog posts that went viral, including one titled “Why I hate Detroit.” That piece dove into the growing problem of a proliferating downtown in the middle of a still-struggling city.

Thomas said he wants to get people to restore their community by sharing their stories, which can bring about change, he said before taking the stage Thursday afternoon. The stories he shared in his blog post got him hundreds of shares and spots in local media. His stories propelled him through a door he hopes to hold open for others like him.

“When you genuinely listen to stories of people who are unlike you, it gives you the chance to solve problems with solutions you didn’t see,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that speaking on the Fox stage was hard to grasp.

“I’ve only been here twice,” the native Detroiter said. “Once was to watch Riverdance with my dad. And now I’m here to speak.”


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Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau