Ryan Martin, Guest Writer

ST. LOUIS – The most recent TedxGateway Arch conference was held at the Delmar Loop Pageant Theatre on the evening of Sept. 12.  “CRASH COURSE: Embrace the Impact saw an assortment of local presenters and performers taking the stage, offering a variety of perspectives on topics and issues predominant in modern society, particularly those affecting the St. Louis region. All were distinct from one another, linked by the mutual theme laid out at the beginning of the night. “Collective action starts with individual impact,” Sarah Ahman, one of the presenters, asserted within the first few minutes. “We do not move through this world without leaving a mark.”  Fellow speakers and figureheads echoed this sentiment in their own narratives throughout the remainder of the evening.

Founded in 1985 by graphic designers Harry Marks and Richard Saul Wurman, Ted Talks were originally a conference primarily for experts in the field of technology, entertainment and design.  Yet it wasn’t until the 90’s that the conference soon evolved into a platform offering a more wide-ranging lineup of experts and revolutionaries to bring extensive insight on diverse subject matter.  As of January 2018, over 2,600 Ted Talks have been posted online for public viewership, having amassed over a billion views. While Tedx is associated solely by name and format, it is an opportunity for local communities to have a chance to spread—as their parent company’s slogan states—“ideas worth sharing.”

Steve Sommers and Mich Hancock, co-founders of TedxGateway Arch, initiated the city centralized initiative in 2009 as an effort to create “an inclusive and equitable community of thinkers.”

The cavalcade of philosophies and concepts produced that evening were well-received by a sizeable audience, despite at times challenging them to confront the reality of our current volatile status as a city and as a nation.  Sarah Ahman of PGAV Destinations outlined the footprint that humanity is leaving on the environment and what it will take to reverse the damage. Dr. Wally Siewart of FOCUS St. Louis diagnosed the “sickness that our democracy is infected with” while evaluating the fundamental paradox of individual and community when it comes to democracy.  As he simply put, “You live in a democracy…you take peoples’ lives in your hands with your vote.”

Infamous black activist and St. Louis native Percy Green was interviewed onstage by Reverend Starsky Wilson, President and CEO of the St. Louis based Deaconess Foundation, to reflect on a lifetime of groundbreaking social work and protesting while reviewing where things stand today. Jean Ponzi, environmental activist and KDHX radio host, tackled the notion of negativity in nature being some of the most beautiful things that life has to offer. The final presenter, Yvonne Osei, closed by reflecting on an artist coming to terms with a wide array of identities and metamorphosing them into something that is wholly unique.

In addition to the already hefty line up, the audience was treated to performances by two local musicians, Jeremiah Johnson Band and Jack Grelle, an adolescent African tribal dance/percussion group, and an avant-garde juggling performance by Thom Wall, one of the last practitioners of gentleman juggling in the entire world.  

“Overall, I was pretty impressed,” Brendan, an attendee, remarked at the end of the evening.  “It’s easy to get sucked into the day to day, but this was refreshing in trying to get you to think beyond you…or even about you.”

“They’re willing to put themselves out there,” Linley, another fellow attendee, followed up. “It’s at least worth trying to put their stuff into practice.  Otherwise what’s the point?”

Sarah and Adrienne, two Washington University students felt “inspired” by the “overwhelming calls for evolution in our community.” 

“St. Louis is a recognizable city. I think, when it comes down to it, people would take pride in being at the forefront of inspiring change for the better.”