tedxsantacruzColumns Culture Events 

TEDxSanta Cruz Inspires Community Solutions and Solidarity

By Haley Sage

On Saturday, April 13 the Crocker Theater at Cabrillo College hosted TEDxSanta Cruz, a world-renown symposium featuring 22 local speakers along with musical performances, dance ensembles, food, and more. To say the event was impressive is a vast understatement: TEDxSanta Cruz firmly put Santa Cruz on the map as a place to represent both the spirit of TED worldwide and vital conversations about inclusiveness, diversity, resilience, and change.

TEDx is a network of independently produced events, under a license from the TED organization, yielding a global conversation of “ideas worth spreading” at over 3000 events around the world in 173 countries. From Bangkok to Vienna, to Montreal, to Mumbai, TEDx features the leading voices in community activism and thought leadership. At this year’s event, Santa Cruz re-established its rightful place in the worldwide arena. 

“Rising Together” was the theme that brought these luminaries together for this year’s event, the sixth since the inception of TEDxSanta Cruz, in 2010. In the words of co-producer and MC Nada Miljković, it was a “unique and inspiring day of connection and community conversation.” According to TEDx: “Our ‘Rising Together’ theme suggests a scale of collaboration that currently doesn’t exist.  As a society, we are facing huge challenges such as climate change, preserving natural resources, racism, poverty, lack of health care, homelessness, and educational inequalities. Santa Cruz serves as a fertile ground where ideas incubate, converge, and spark innovation. The vibrant interplay of ideas, creative energy, and the rich tapestry of diversity within Santa Cruz County is the beating heart of TEDxSantaCruz.”

The full-day program was divided into four sessions: Who We Are, How We Evolve, How We Solve, How We Rise Together, replete with refreshments and time for attendees to network, exchange ideas, and seed future collaborations. 

The day began with the powerful drumming and dance from members of the White Hawk Indian Council for Children, who invoked a sense of shared space with the audience as they streamed into the auditorium – each arrayed in elaborate plumed headdresses, ankle and hand rattles, and conch-shell horns.

White Hawk Dancers

Community Foundation Santa Cruz County CEO Susan True began the day with her remarks about the origins of Rise Together, a coalition of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color leaders whose members were the initial catalyst for this event and “the most brilliant solvers of our most immediate problems and the most brilliant builders of what our community will become,” according to True. 

MariaElena De La Garza, Executive Director of the community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc. brought the house to the first of numerous standing ovations throughout the day, with her opening Ted Talk about Xingonas and the reclamation of female empowerment and solidarity in the community. 

MariaElena De La Garza

From there, speakers throughout the day had the audience rapt with enthusiastic attention, invoking chills and nodding of heads, laughter, whooping, cheering, and even the occasional wiping away of tears.

Topics were as diverse as the speakers who delivered them: barriers to education in prisons (Effron “Donnie” Veal); the importance of independent and reliable news (Kara Meyberg Guzman); “shrine keepers” and their work to prevent distortion of cultural history by agents of a dominant paradigm (Luna HighJohn-Bey); cutting-edge findings in Neuroscience (Kyra Bobinet); the power of Hope over Grief (Daisy Nuñez); the power of reconnecting with our food (Terry Carr); the importance of fearless community activism (Esabella Bonner); and the transformative power of digital networks to advance underserved youth populations (Jacob Martinez, with Alex Chavez-Guerrero and Martín Vargas-Vega). The youngest of speakers, Madeleine Aliah, 18, delivered an eloquent commentary on the transgender experience in her speech “Beyond the Safe Space” – inciting the audience to consider new perspectives in this important and universally-relevant issue.

What was extraordinary about TEDxSanta Cruz, was the integration of so many elements to represent our community. It was not just speakers who highlighted the diversity inherent in this area, from a rich variety of ethnic, socio-economic, and gender-diverse leaders; the TEDx programmers expertly integrated musical performance and dance, as well, to drive home this year’s theme. From Elie Mabanza, who brings his exquisite musicianship from Congo to Santa Cruz stages regularly, to Keith Greeninger, a pillar among the Santa Cruz songwriters in the Folk/Americana-style, to exquisite songwriting, vocals and dance by Daniel Nemire, August Lee Stevens and Angela Chambers. The inclusion of drag performers Kat Armstrong/Trashy and Jorge Guillen/Xinistra enlivened the stage with raucous hilarity, tempered with thought-provoking straight talk about the queer and LGBTQI+ experience.

Sitting in the audience, one could easily perceive the collective creativity and intelligence in our community, and the potential for change, optimism, determination and vision that resides within each of us. Between sessions, attendees eagerly exchanged ideas of their own, inspired by the mastery onstage. The takeaway was a collective sense of solidarity, coupled with a can-do resolve that is emblematic of the Santa Cruz spirit. 

For those who were unable to attend, TEDxSanta Cruz plsns to post the full program in both English and Spanish, at tedxsantacruz.org.

Haley Sage is the host of “Shore to Shore” on KBCZ 89.3FM. She has worked extensively as a producer and tour manager in over two dozen countries around the world. She is also a certified Professional Grief Coach, and is currently a candidate for certification as a Health and Wellness Coach with Duke Integrative Medicine.

Photos by Michael Cinque


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