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'Xcellerating' change: TEDxFargo speakers talk about turning ideas into action

FARGO -- Cheryl Heller believes the pace of change can be accelerated with the right language. For Ben Hecht, it starts with individual behavioral change. For Lissa Rankin, it's found through connection. "Xcellerate," the theme of the seventh ann...

Ian Abston talks about growing up as a millennial Thursday, July 21, 2016, during TEDxFargo at the Fargo Civic Center. David Samson / The Forum
Ian Abston talks about growing up as a millennial Thursday, July 21, 2016, during TEDxFargo at the Fargo Civic Center. David Samson / The Forum

FARGO - Cheryl Heller believes the pace of change can be accelerated with the right language. For Ben Hecht, it starts with individual behavioral change. For Lissa Rankin, it's found through connection. "Xcellerate," the theme of the seventh annual TEDxFargo event, held Thursday, July 21, at the Fargo Civic Center, was a common thread throughout the day's sessions. Nearly 2,000 people listened as 25 speakers from diverse backgrounds shared their ideas for accelerating different types of change. "During a time of change, unrest and uncertainty, the concept of an 'idea' may be our most powerful tool to give all people the chance to live, love and contribute to the greatest planet in the universe," event curator Greg Tehven wrote in the program. Hecht, president and CEO of Living Cities, which works with partner organizations to benefit low-income people and the cities they live in, started the first morning session with a talk on the income and wealth gaps between the rich and the poor and white people and people of color. "Gaps have increased since the '70s," he said. "It's even worse for people of color. Today, a person of color earns 59 cents, a Hispanic 72 cents, to every dollar a white person earns," he said. "In wealth, the gap is almost incomprehensible." It's not just a moral imperative that we close those gaps, but it's an economic imperative, he said, explaining that if the trend continues, with a majority of the population projected to be non-white by the year 2050, the U.S. economy will suffer major long-term consequences. While recognizing the complexity of the problem, he outlined several steps necessary to addressing it, including individual behavioral change. "We can close the gaps between the rich and the poor, between white people and people of color, but it requires each of us to get up and lead from wherever we sit," he said in closing. Heller, the founding chair of the first MFA program in design for social innovation at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, talked about the power and importance of the words we use when trying to effect change. "All change begins with language," she said. "Every new idea that gets acted upon begins with a conversation between people. We can find the words, and we can accelerate the things that matter."

Ian Abston talks about growing up as a millennial Thursday, July 21, 2016, during TEDxFargo at the Fargo Civic Center. David Samson / The Forum
Ian Abston talks about growing up as a millennial Thursday, July 21, 2016, during TEDxFargo at the Fargo Civic Center. David Samson / The Forum

After hearing from Peter Rieke on ways to help people with limited abilities enjoy outdoors activities, Rankin on the connection between loneliness and health, and Anna Frissell, executive director of the Red River Children's Advocacy Center, on the importance of advocating for victims of sexual abuse, the audience met millennial expert Ian Abston. Abston, a member of what he calls "the 'Oregon Trail' millennials," closed the first session with a little humor mixed into his talk about the economic importance of engaging millennials in their communities. "(It's a misconception that) we're lazy, can't find a job, we have parents that are overprotective, we live in our parents' basements, and the only hope we have of getting out is if a Pokémon is spotted nearby," he said with a laugh. Though there are major differences between the oldest and youngest millennials, he said they have in common a love of cities. In 1950, he explained, 30 percent of the world's population lived in cities. Now it's 54 percent, which he called "a massive jump." They also share a desire to start families and provide their children with quality education. "The communities that care are going to invest," he said in closing. "So let's stop trying to be the next Portland. Let's stop trying to be next Austin, and let's just be the best damn city where you can raise a family."

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