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‘It’s time to change the story’: TEDxSeattle celebrates its 10th anniversary by inviting speakers on hip hop, education, and climate change

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TEDxSeattle invited James Miles, executive director of Seattle-based Arts Corps, and photographer and filmmaker Chris Jordan, among others, Saturday, Nov. 23, to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the event that inspires thinkers around the world. This year’s theme was “shift.”

Ten years ago, the crowd of the TEDxRainier numbered only 600. Since then, TEDxRainier has transformed into TEDxSeattle and is now one of the largest running TEDx events globally, according to TEDxSeattle organizer Phil Klein.

Miles and Jordan used two different approaches to set a fire under the audience members and online listeners. The 2,800 people in McCaw Hall hushed as each speaker entered the red carpet circle at the center of the stage, the spotlight following their movements. 

“I’m gonna take my horse to the old town road / I’m gonna ride, till I can’t no more,” Miles sang on stage, gesturing for the audience to join him. The theater rumbled with the familiar lyrics followed by a smattering of laughter.

Miles proposes the idea that popular music can transform education. Through the use of youth culture, education can become as sticky as the lyrics of Old Town Road by Lil Nas X.

Miles has a diverse background in arts and education through his role as the director of education at Urban Arts Partnership in New York City, an adjunct professor of theater and education at NYU, and his current position at the Seattle-based Arts Corps.

The problem with education, according to Miles, is that curriculum is not tailored to youth interaction. Youth are facing an increase in depression, anxiety, and a variety of other imposition to their education. To fix this, society must change the way it thinks about youth and education

To help initiate this change, Miles co-founded Leaders Don’t Lead, an organization that aims to change the way people approach leadership. Leaders Don’t Lead hosts keynotes, workshops, and deeper works on coaching that intend to shift people’s thoughts about themselves and their community.

In his time as a teacher, Miles has seen young people disengage with material that is not compatible with their culture. But what is their culture? It’s hip-hop, according to Miles.

“When we bring hip-hop in the classroom, students have ownership of their education,” Miles said. 

According to Miles, in a time where our educational system seems to be failing more and more students, a shift in thinking is needed to find a solution, “Ask what do you need from school?” 

Jordan was the final speaker to walk onto the stage on Saturday. The crowd was quiet as he approached the red circle in front of the giant TEDxSeattle logo. 

“I’m tired,” Jordan said, after a pause. His quiet demeanor and reserved attitude drew the crowd in, a dramatic shift from the upbeat tone of the previous speakers. 

“I’m tired of hearing all of the bad news exaggerated because we think it’s the right thing to do,” Jordan said. For Jordan, the constant narrative surrounding climate change and the idea of a “climate apocalypse” is irresponsible and problematic.

Jordan has been making photographs and artwork surrounding global consumerism with the aim of educating the public on the effects of mass consumption since the early 2000s. One of his commonly known images is of the exposed belly of a deceased seagull filled with trash.

Jordan proposed a shift in the narrative surrounding climate change, namely, that society stops advocating for panic which incapacitates the mind and makes responding to the issue impossible. Instead, Jordan says, society should focus on beauty.

“It’s time to change the story,” Jordan said in his talk. 

The “transformational healing power of beauty” is the change that he suggests. The fundamental characteristic of beauty, according to Jordan, is that the more that you look for it, the more you will see it. Additionally, beauty is the means with which the living world uses to speak to us.

Focusing on beauty does not mean ignoring the world’s problems, it means changing the attitude with which we approach them, he states.

“So here’s my bottom line: I’m going all-in on beauty,” Jordan said. “Let’s make beauty a cultural priority.” 

Many members of the audience rose to their feet, applauding Jordan and his message.

These two of the 13 total presentations at the event highlighted the importance of society evolving it’s mindset, giving the audience the means with which to approach the issues society faces, whether that be in education or climate change.

Reach reporter Abigail Taylor at news@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @abigail_taylo

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