Chicago Ideas Day Five featured our premier daylong event, Edison Talks, where a diverse array of speakers elevated the dialogue on a number of important issues. While some spoke on the problems facing America and our country, such as education and the refugee crisis, others, like former astronaut Leland Melvin, told their stories of overcoming adversity to find strength within. Edison Talks are never predictable, and this year was no exception. Read on to find out the six most surprising moments from this year’s event.
Parental Noninvolvement Can Be Freeing
This year, Kamau Murray became the second black tennis coach to win a grand slam in the US Open’s 95-year history when he coached Sloane Stephens to win her historic title. He’s also the founder of XS Tennis and Education Foundation, a free, after-school program that provides lessons to 2,000 Chicago Public School students. During Murray’s sit-down with Chicago Ideas Founder Brad Keywell, Keywell was surprised to learn that Murray was fine with his busy parents not attending his games as a child. “In youth sports, parents can be crippling to children,” he said. “There’s a lot of pressure put on them.” Instead of finding it discouraging, when Murray’s parents didn’t take an interest in his tennis playing he found it freeing, allowing him to form his own relationship with the game that had nothing to do with parental expectations.
Fact-Finding Isn’t a Direct Route to Trust
During his talk with Ann Friedman, Upworthy Founder Eli Pariser explained that while journalists feel the public should trust them because they’ve followed a journalistic process that includes rigorous fact checking, that’s not actually how trust works. People trust those who they feel care about them and have their best interests at heart. “If people don’t believe you’re on their side, then you don’t get to talk about the facts,” he said, speaking about the level of trust journalists need to establish before they can effectively report on issues and change people’s minds.
Jennifer Garner’s Shocking Stats
Jennifer Garner is known for delighting audiences through TV and film, so it’s no surprise she was equally engaging when she took the stage with Save the Children’s Mark Shriver to discuss her philanthropic work with the organization and its mission to better education for the rural poor. What was surprising was some of the shocking statistics Garner shared: By the time a child is 11 years old, it’s already too late to make up for education deficits that they experienced as a toddler. If you’re living in poverty in this country, by four years old, you’ll mostly likely already be 18 months behind your middle-class peers cognitively and behaviorally. Another surprising stat Garner shared? Children who grow up in poverty hear 33 million fewer words by the time they’re three years old.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez: Think Small
Being a lifelong climate activist is pretty impressive, even if you’re only 17. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has been traveling the world to rally youth behind the cause of stopping climate change since he was only six years old, and recently wrote a book about his vision for the future. With so much accomplished, it was surprising, then, when he told interviewer Javontay Peoples (a 12th grader from the Chicago Ideas You(th) program), “You don’t have to be a ‘big’ activist.” Instead, Martinez suggest starting small and contributing with a creative work. Personally, he uses hip-hop to help spread the word about climate change and our responsibility to stop it.
The Funniest Edison Talk Was About the Refugee Crisis
When Becca Heller, the co-founder of the International Refugee Assistance Project, took the stage to discuss the legal challenges facing refugees, no one expected to laugh out loud. But that’s just what they did through Heller’s dynamic presentation. Full of pop culture references and asides, her talk felt as though your hilarious best friend was telling you the story of how she almost single-handedly got 2,000 detainees released from airport jails in the days following President Trump’s Muslim ban. Her funniness didn’t detract from the work, however: moved by all she’s done to help the refugee community, the audience gave Heller a standing ovation as she left the stage.
Tererai Trent’s Powerful Message
Tererai Trent was born into poverty in Zimbabwe and was forced into marriage before she became an adult. During her energizing Edison talk, Trent told the story of how she wrote down her dreams, buried them in a can—and then achieved them. Now an accomplished Ph.D.-holder and a powerful orator, she has helped educate thousands in Africa through her humanitarian work at Tererai Trent International. Trent ended her talk by saying all her hard work wasn’t about the degrees. “It was about how those degrees and education is connected to the greater good.” She then reaffirmed her commitment to spread knowledge to others. At the Edison Talks After Party, many attendees said she their favorite speaker.