Author: Daryl Chen
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The event: TED Salon: Trailblazers, hosted by TED design and arts curator Chee Pearlman and TED science curator David Biello
When and where: Thursday, June 27, 2019, at the TED World Theater in New York City
The partner: The Macallan
Music: Sammy Rae & The Friends
The talks in brief:
Marcus Bullock, entrepreneur and justice reform advocate
- Big idea: Over his eight-year prison sentence, Marcus Bullock was sustained by his mother’s love — and her photos of cheeseburgers. Years later, as an entrepreneur, he asked himself, “How can I help make it easier for other families to deliver love to their own incarcerated loved ones?”
Communicating with prisoners is notoriously difficult and dominated by often-predatory telecommunications companies. By creating Flikshop — an app that allows inmates’ friends and families to send physical picture postcards into prison with the ease of texting — Marcus Bullock is bypassing the billion-dollar prison telecommunications industry and allowing hundreds of thousands of prisoners access to the same love and motivation that his mother gave him.
- Quote of the talk: “I stand today with a felony, and just like millions of others around the country who also have that ‘F’ on their chest, just as my mom promised me many years ago, I wanted to show them that there was still life after prison.”
Becca McCharen-Tran, founder and creative director of bodywear line CHROMAT
- Big idea: Fashion designers have a responsibility to create inclusive designs suited for all gender expressions, ages, ability levels, ethnicities and races — and by doing so, they can shatter our limited definition of beauty.
From day one in school, fashion designers are taught to create for a certain type of body, painting “thin, white, cisgender, able-bodied, young models as the ideal,” says fashion designer Becca McCharen-Tran. This has made body-shaming a norm for so many who strive to assimilate to the illusion of perfection in fashion imagery. McCharen-Tran believes creators are responsible for reimagining and expanding what a “bikini body” is. Her swimwear focused clothing line CHROMAT celebrates beauty in all its forms. They unapologetically counter the narrative through inclusive, explosive designs that welcome all of the uniqueness that comes with being a human.
- Quote of the talk: “Inclusivity means nothing if it’s only surface level … who is making the decisions behind the scenes is just as important. It’s imperative to include diverse decision-makers in the process, and it’s always better to collaborate with different communities rather than trying to speak for them.”
Amy Padnani, editor at the New York Times (or, as some of her friends call her, the “Angel of Death”)
- Big idea: No one deserves to be overlooked in life, even in death.
Padnani created “Overlooked,” a New York Times series that recognizes the stories of dismissed and marginalized people. Since 1851, the newspaper has published thousands of obituaries for individuals like heads of state and celebrities, but only a small amount of those obits chronicled the lives of women and people of color. With “Overlooked,” Padnani forged a path for the publication to right the wrongs of the past while refocusing society’s lens on who’s considered important. Powerful in its ability to perspective-shift and honor those once ignored, “Overlooked” is also on track to become a Netflix series.
- Fun fact: Prior to Padnani’s breakout project, the New York Times had yet to publish obituaries on notable individuals in history such as Ida B. Wells, Sylvia Plath, Ada Lovelace and Alan Turing.
Sam Van Aken, multimedia contemporary artist, art professor at Syracuse University in New York and creator of the Tree of 40 Fruit
- Big idea: Many of the fruits that have been grown in the US were originally brought there by immigrants. But due to industrialization, disease and climate change, American farmers produce just a fraction of the types available a century ago. Sam Van Aken has hand-grafted heirloom varieties of stone fruit — peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines and cherries — to make the “Tree of 40 Fruit.” What began as an art project to showcase their multi-hued blossoms has become a living archive of rare specimens and their histories; a hands-on (and delicious!) way to teach people about conservation and cultivation; and a vivid symbol of the need for biodiversity in order to ensure food security. Van Aken has created and planted his trees at museums and at people’s homes, and his largest project to date is the 50-tree Open Orchard — which, in total, will possess 200 varieties originated or historically grown in the region — on Governor’s Island in New York City.
- Fun fact: One hundred years ago, there were over 2,000 varieties of peaches, nearly 2,000 varieties of plums, and nearly 800 named apple varieties grown in the United States.
- Quote of the talk: “More than just food, embedded in these fruit is our culture. It’s the people who cared for and cultivated them, who valued them so much that they brought them here with them as a connection to their homes, and it’s the way they passed them on and shared them. In many ways, these fruit are our story.”
Lee Thomas, broadcast journalist
- Big idea: Despite having a disease that left him vulnerable to stares in public, Lee Thomas discovered he could respond to ignorance and fear with engagement and dialogue.
As a news anchor, Lee Thomas used makeup to hide the effects of vitiligo, an autoimmune disorder that left large patches of his skin without pigmentation. But without makeup, he was vulnerable to derision — until he decided to counter misunderstanding with eye contact and conversation. Ultimately, an on-camera story on his condition led him to start a support group and join others in celebrating World Vitiligo Day.
- Quote of the talk: “Positivity is something worth fighting for — and the fight is not with others, it’s internal. If you want to make positive changes in your life, you have to consistently be positive.”
Trailblazers: A night of talks in partnership with The Macallan