On any given Friday afternoon, crowds of eager kids are counting the seconds to being released into a wide stretch of weekend, but in downtown Denver on April 12, there was a frantic enthusiasm reserved for an event at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. TEDxYouth@MileHigh opened its doors to a flood of pristine uniforms who buzzed about on this particular Friday afternoon. So what did TEDxYouth@MileHigh offer up to thirsty minds that often default to boredom? Questions. The lobby was a patchwork of booths asking what they would wish for, what type of business they would start, what they wouldn’t settle for. A very bright-eyed 18 year old had a table with her duct tape craft wallets. She had been working with Young American’s Bank and YouthBiz to start her own business in her spare time. ReWork, a regular partner of TEDxMileHigh, was engaging kids about career choices and not settling for second best (ed. note: ReWork will be hosting The Schoolyard Scrimmage on May 4. Taking place at Galvanize, the Scrimmage is an innovative day-long event that will harness the talents and power of the community to help accelerate local schools, companies, and nonprofits working in the education space).
And that was just the first floor. In the learning labs upstairs (called Action Labs), kids interacted by writing poetry, building 3D collages, learning how to compose a dub-step beat, dance a haiku, and get a glimpse of exploration gear from Antarctica. All labs were very fun and perfect for younger students, but the juniors and seniors seemed a bit glazed as they had limited ground to tread, and for that I hope that TEDxYouth@MileHigh develops more dynamic engagement for these well-developed youthquakes.
In the auditorium, we heard from a broad swath of speakers and performers: Emma Hutchinson, a teenager and environmental activist who spent $7 on a letter-writing campaign to ban single use bags in Boulder, which resulted in a ban and a top-notch recycling program in her school; Swathi Kompella, a 12 year-old who is designing a neurological stimulator for stem cells to combat Parkinson’s Disease; Easton LaChappelle, a 17 year-old who has built and designed animatronic, low-cost prosthetic limbs from a 3D printer; DJ CaveM, a hip hop performer who raps about being an organic vegan farmer as a revolution; Jonathon Stalls, a man who lives life at 3MPH who walked across the country to raise money for KIVA loans; Eric Larson, a polar explorer who engaged kids in environmental awareness and personal preparation; 25 year-old Ryan Ford, a movement artist and practitioner of parkour who said, “There are no obstacles, only opportunities” as he told the story of a mom and her two kids coming together to learn to play in order to overcome their disabilities and difficulties; Amelia Earhart, the emcee of the event, who is a pilot and news broadcaster starting a non-profit to teach young women to fly; and Ballet Nouveau Colorado and Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop, who did a mash-up of dance and poetry.
The theme for the event was Values + Instincts. You don’t need to teach a kid to be interested (that is the unlearning of adulthood where there has to be results and reasons for work); kids are simply more effectively curious. But you do need to engage with them about the Values and Instincts that create our concepts, ideas, and cultures. The startlingly coherent young minds that presented solutions to real-world problems were jaw dropping, and the messages held by the curious explorers and movers who told of building a team, developing trust, living in your body, taking a walk, and being persistent were equally so. Those are the values, and developed instincts, that kids need and from that, they can do and design anything. This year, TEDxYouth@MileHigh continued to develop a rich tapestry to grow the minds that will design a complete overhaul of society from it’s industrial dust. As said by a reader from Lighthouse Writers: “Maybe we are just mirrors for miracles.”
This is a guest post by blogger and Denver-native, Crystal Clear, a host, producer, and media curator. Her project, myculturalrehab.com is a continuing examination of the ails and cures to the calamity of self-realization in our cultural soup.