Students, Richmond residents share stories at TEDxRVA

Alex Falls
Contributing Writer

Richmond’s version of the grassroots organization, TEDx, gathered Friday, March 28 to present 23 Richmond stories and to give local storytellers a chance to connect with the community.

The semi-annual TED conference embodies an environment where ideas can be shared with the world. TEDx organizations mirror this in the scope of a single city. There are cities in 158 countries with their own version of TEDx. This year, there will be 817 independent events taking place, with eight happening every day.

TEDxRVA curator Andy Stefanovich said this year’s event was a great improvement on its first show last year.

“There (is) more passion, more engagement, (and) more involvement,” Stefanovich said. “Last year we were building a plane and flying it at the same time, and I feel like we’re a little bit more just flying this year.”

The theme this year was: “Re_.” Speakers could interpreted the prefix in any form such as reimagine, reconsider or repair. Each speaker presented a personal experience that has changed their lives, and the audience had the chance to decide what they would “Re_” after hearing each story.

Risa Gomez, a spokesperson for TEDxRVA, said the organizers were looking to be more proactive this year in making the audience part of the show.

“Based on some of the feedback from last year we wanted to be more outreaching to the community,” Gomez said. “We got some feedback that said we seemed a little exclusive last year but that wasn’t intentional at all. We were just reacting and trying to figure out how to put on an event.”

Amy Black, a Richmond tattoo artist with 14 years in the industry, told her story of the service she provides to women who have survived breast cancer. Black creates 3D nipple tattoos and artwork on women who have undergone mastectomies and don’t want their bodies defined by scars.

“I’m talking about something that’s way bigger than me,” Black said. “It’s a service that’s going to really help a lot of people, not only through their cancer but also being able to talk about the simple message that art can heal in many different ways.”

Joshua Braunstein, a junior English major at VCU, received a standing ovation for his performance of an original poem, titled “Shooting the Messenger.” Braunstein said the conference helped him connect, and interacting with the other speakers also provided guidance.

“It was really helpful I know for me, and I think it was helpful for the other speakers too,” Braunstein said. “Just cheering each other on and letting everyone know that we’re all on the same side.”

Braunstein said Richmond’s population is the perfect place for a TEDx.

“The kinds of artists, the kinds of thinkers; and not just artists, but business leaders who have these ideas … they come to large bustling cities like this,” Braunstein said.

The conference also featured musical performances from local organizations such as Classical Revolution RVA and the American Youth Harp Ensemble.

Sophie Whitfield, conference atendee, said she has always been a fan of TED, and TEDxRVA matches up to all of the flare of Richmond. Whitfield said her favorite performance was Braunstein’s poem.

“I thought he was really great because he shows you can do college and your passion,” Whitfield said. “Those two things don’t have to be exclusive, or one after the other.”

Stefanovich said the response from the Richmond community this year has been great so far.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Stefanovich said. “It’s something we want to continue to make better and improve on. It’s really just about putting good things on the stage for people to be inspired.”

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