Editor’s note: Kelly Hunt Lyon, the author of this guest commentary, is the Director of Webster University’s Little Rock Area campuses. Reach her on Twitter @kellyhuntlyon.
Little Rock’s first TED (Technology Education and Design) conference, TEDxMarkhamSt more than lived up to the TED tagline, “Ideas worth spreading.” Agriculture and telemedicine. Art and architecture. Poverty and the power of education to transcend it. Innovation in business and innovation in health care. Defining moments—from the power of basketball courts to the power of listening. Rebuilding neighborhoods and growing our city. Diversity, from food choice to race and gender. Privilege, born with our without. Tears shed—and watersheds—in the history of our beloved city.
Founder Salil Joshi, and his team, organized the event and HARK founder, Tim Freeman, served as the day’s emcee. It was a full day with 16 speakers taking the stage. Their live remarks were interspersed with popular TED videos.
Four speakers had some connection to Arkansas land, farming it, keeping it, conserving it, or building on it. Cotton Rohrscheib, third generation farmer and entrepreneur, explained past challenges in agriculture and the role of technology in increasing production. Dr. Karama Neal shared her perspective on social change based on her work to get the Arkansas Heir Property Act passed in the last legislative session. P. Allen Smith pointed out some alarming vulnerabilities in poultry breeding practices that could have a catastrophic global impact. Architect Reese Rowland explained how he designed the CALS Hillary Clinton Children’s Library to accommodate children’s current and future learning styles and technology. He also took into account food security, physical safety, and the natural features of the property, when designing the building.
The corporate viewpoint was represented by three speakers. Executive leadership coach Barry Goldberg attributed listening—fully, actively, deeply, with no cell phone, no computer, no distractions—to measurable economic growth and effective leadership. Attorney Anthony Johnson offered ideas on how an innovative approach can be incorporated into building a law practice. Charles Morgan told of growing Acxiom into a billion dollar company before moving on to his new ventures such as PrivacyStar. This platform only provided time for highlights from his colorful story, but he’s chronicled his experience in a memoir Matters of Life and Data.
Dr. Curtis Lowry and Dr. Stephen Cannon discussed technology in the medical field. Dr. Lowry discussed his use of telemedicine in high risk obstetric care in rural Arkansas. Dr. Cannon discussed advances in treating kidney stones—something important to anyone who’s had one. Both emphasized that technology can improve patient care, create healthy populations and reduce costs, known in healthcare as the Triple Aim.
Another group of speakers addressed challenges of lives still lived on the margins for minorities and women. Celia Anderson, former Lady Razorback opened her remarks with a powerful, painful, and beautiful poem she wrote about growing up without her father. Basketball, she said, was her defining moment—the difference between becoming a statistic or a successful collegiate and professional athlete. She is now a published author. She touched us deeply and received one of the few standing ovations of the day.
Chane “Epiphany” Morrow offered a humorous account of possessing “height privilege” as a non-threatening way to talk about white privilege. If there was anyone in the audience still in doubt about the existing of white privilege, I hope his compelling words broke through to them.
Little Rock artist, Chris James, offered a lyrical combination of poetry and personal narrative about making a living as an artist. I wondered if he might find more fame and fortune in a larger city. I don’t know enough about art to have an opinion, but I believe the fact he’s here, contributing to the increasingly hip culture of our city, is good for our creative economy.
Lynette Watts of the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas provided a comprehensive, yet troubling, download of facts about the educational opportunities and earning power that are not available to all women and children in Arkansas. When a national research study indicates companies with women on their board of directors outperform companies with male-only boards, can we afford to maintain the status quo in our state?
Dr. Fitz Hill, President of Arkansas Baptist College, alternated between college president and animated preacher, trying to reach the audience on whatever level they could relate. He understands colleges and universities are economic engines in the communities they serve and is using that fact as leverage to rebuild a challenged neighborhood.
Minnijean Brown-Trickey’s perspective on nonviolence, grounded in her experiences as one of the Little Rock Nine, remains quietly compelling. Something palpable went through the audience when she said, “Activism is a life sentence.” We can never know how heavy the weight a prominent place in the civil rights movement must be, but I’m grateful each time she returns to Little Rock to share her experience and wisdom.
Although Mrs. Brown-Trickey was the capstone speaker, Skip Rutherford hit a unique balance. He offered a historical perspective for the purpose of looking to our city’s future. As dean of the Clinton School of Public Service, who better to give an overview of Little Rock’s mistakes (wrong turns) and successes (right turns). He struck a chord because the day after the event concluded, speakers and audience members were using social media to refer to TEDxMarkhamSt as a definite “Right Turn” for Little Rock.
Why do I feel so strongly that TEDxMarkhamSt is a right turn for Little Rock? Three reasons. First, it marked the point at which a core of people—younger, elder, black, white, women and men— collectively offered “ideas worth spreading” to a general audience supplemented by social media. I’d heard many of these speakers before. The novelty, the energy, the magic was in putting them in the same space in the same day so they could play off each other. Some ideas provided complement, others contrast.
Second, it marked the point at which social and economic justice intersected with art and entrepreneurship, as these issues relate to Little Rock, to Arkansas, to our country, to our world.
Third, it marked the point an established, respected leader in the Baby Boomer generation threw down the gauntlet for Gen X and Gen Y to take up. As Mr. Rutherford was leaving the stage, Mr. Freeman said, “As we move forward to make our city even better, we need you.” Without missing a beat, Mr. Rutherford’s last three words were, “You need YOU.”