Somewhere between Shawn Mullins’ opening song, “Light You Up,” and Doug Shipman’s closing admonition for us to love thy neighbor, TEDxAtlanta went from talking about community to acting as one. The semiannual event concluded with both the live and webcast audiences pledging their talent, energy and resources in response to a “wish” from Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall. Hall, appearing via video, asked the TEDxAtlanta community to help create experiences that will expand the horizons of the 600 children who live in Atlanta’s Boulevard corridor, as part of his 2012 Year of Boulevard initiative.
In the first half of the event, six performers and speakers traced the ever-present thread of music in the Atlanta community, and in Atlanta’s connection to the global community, whether physical or virtual. That began with Atlanta’s own Shawn Mullins four-song set of both current and original hits. It continued through Eddie Owen — founder of Eddie’s Attic, where Mullins’ career began — as he shared stories about how small venues for live music create a community not only for singers and songwriters, but also for those in the audience.
Rhonda Lowry put a twist in the thread by explaining identity in the digital age through her own avatar, Grace McDunnough, who is a well-known musical performer in Second Life. Judy Mauldin put yet a different twist on it talking about Hip Hop 4 Humanity, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that has recently been included in the United Nations’ compendium of organizations that solve social and economic issues. Taja Sevelle — a Prince protége — helped Mauldin make her point by sharing the work of Urban Farming, which Sevelle founded in Detroit in 2005. Robert Spano then held the audience spellbound, talking about the universal role of music and playing an original composition on piano.
As the TEDxAtlanta community took a break, Doria Roberts, co-founder of Urban Cannibals Bodega and Bites, shared the essential ingredients that make this unique East Atlanta enterprise a model for the neighborhood general store. Together with her wife, Calavino Donati, the two wowed the crowd with the assortment of artisanal foods they provided for the break.
In the second half of the event, five speakers demonstrated the impact that our actions can have in fostering — or disabling — community. Richard Harding told of overcoming hurdles to make END MALARIA NOW capable of distributing life-saving bed nets. Bryan Stevenson — via his recently recorded TED Talk — spoke to the need to keep our eyes on the prize. Judith J. Pickens opened our eyes to what can be accomplished if you listen and act on what is really needed. And Doug Shipman opened our hearts with his stories about what it means to actually love thy neighbor.
The TEDxAtlanta community then willingly took up a challenge issued by the event’s organizer, Tod Martin. That challenge was to shift from dialogue to action. The TEDxAtlanta community listened to the wishes of the children of the Boulevard Corridor — camp, internships, entrepreneurial coaching — as voiced by Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall. More than that, they acted; they acted with offers of talent, time and resources needed to make those wishes come true.
As the day concluded, with beer and chocolate pairings provided through a collaboration between The Wrecking Bar Brewpub and Cacao, there was a new, heightened level of energy in the room: the energy that comes from knowing that you’ve truly become a community, capable of granting wishes.