Since he was speaking on a Lowcountry peninsula Wednesday, the Rev. Bill Stanfield couched his community development argument in terms of rivers.
In the upper-income Greensboro, N.C., neighborhood where he grew up, Stanfield explained, most of the capital coursing through was controlled by the citizenry and flowed to “strengths,” such as high-achieving students or institutions.
In poorer areas, however, such as the Chicora-Cherokee neighborhood where he now lives and works, most of the money comes from the government and “agencies,” Stanfield said as images and graphics flashed on a screen behind him, and it tends to go to “problems.”
And so a perverse incentive system arises wherein problematic behavior — addiction, violence, etc. — is somehow rewarded, bloating well-intentioned nonprofits and dependency with them, and the “strengths” aren’t supported like they should be.
“What those bright spots need is not charity but investment,” Stanfield told a rapt audience of more than 100 people packed into PURE Theatre on King Street. It was a compelling set-up for a call to action.
“Let’s get to work,” he concluded, prompting quick and enthusiastic applause.
Stanfield, CEO of Metanoia Community Development Corp., was one of 14 speakers at the inaugural TEDxCharleston, a local iteration of the popular Technology, Entertainment and Design conferences that began almost three decades ago.
The theme of the daylong event, licensed from TED but independently run by a team of local businesspeople and nonprofit types, was “Reinvent,” and the talks ranged from the lifesaving antimicrobial properties of copper in hospitals to the importance of finding one’s “other mother,” or close mentor outside the family.
Organizers had chosen the speakers from more than 100 area applicants and the 100 paying audience members from an even larger pool, according to Rachel Hutchisson, director of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Blackbaud who served as chair of the speakers committee.
Months of speaker coaching and sponsor and volunteer contributions came together Wednesday with a mostly crisp series of 18-minute presentations and impressive musical interludes.
The crowd, which ranged from software engineers to designers to public relations workers, seemed to dig it.
“TED’s becoming a big part of our world,” Hutchisson said. “It’s nice to be a part of that.”
Though TED has been around since 1984, it’s been only a video phenomenon for Lowcountry aficionados before 2013. In late February, TEDxCharleston hosted a live-stream viewing of the main TED event in California at the Charleston County Public Library, and in March, there was a similar event in Summerville, TEDxPinewoodPrepSchool.
Another of Wednesday’s provocative “TED Talks” questioned whether such schools are even necessary.
Lua Martin Wells, a former French teacher and current Mount Pleasant librarian, told of how she “unschooled” her two children, that is, let them direct their own educations from single-digit ages.
Instead of sitting in classrooms and doing homework most weekdays, Madeleine and Patrick simply pursued their own interests, Wells said. Instead of contending with classmates and tests, they went to the public library and various museums and volunteered at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
“Maddie” read Shakespeare because she wanted to, not because it was assigned. And when it came time for her to apply for college, Wells said they made up her transcript from the classes she took at Trident Technical College, her volunteer and work history and her reading list.
“It was actually easier than you might expect,” she said, noting her daughter got into all five colleges to which she applied and now is a librarian like her mom. As a teenager, Patrick expressed an interest in an emergency medical services ride-along, and that led to his current job with the Charleston County EMS.
“And that’s how unschooling works,” Wells said.
Standing in line at Oku, where the TEDxCharleston ate lunch, defense contractor Martin Lane said as a longtime TED fan, he jumped at the opportunity to attend Wednesday’s event.
“One day I’m going to give a TED Talk,” he said, something about how technology is helping people, “so I better be here.”
He liked Stanfield’s call for less top-down social uplift and said he would tell his hospital administrator mother and architect father about the copper talk and one about historic preservation, respectively. Making up your own transcript?
“It’s that type of bold thought ... that I appreciate,” he said.
But the thoughts are just the beginning, the event’s organizers and speakers stressed.
“The value of an event like this is the fruit that it bears out,” Stanfield said, not the buzz of the moment. “It should be viewed as a starting line rather than a finish line.”
Hutchisson said TEDxCharleston plans to post videos of Wednesday’s talks within a few weeks and hopes to stage a larger event next year so more people can come hear what TED calls “ideas worth spreading.”
Reach Brendan Kearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.