TED Talk Wrap-Up: What I Learned from an Activist and Former Skinhead

TED Talk Wrap-Up: What I Learned from an Activist and Former Skinhead

By Brionna Simons

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a nonprofit global community devoted to spreading ideas. A Tedx event is a local level conference showcasing live speakers whom each present a TED Talk, which is a short and powerful talk that sparks deep conversations and connections.

On November 11th, thousands gathered in downtown Denver to attend the TEDxMileHigh: Wonder Conference. Speakers were revealed the morning of the event and included experts from several disciplines and cultures, such as a marijuana policy influencer, an atmospheric scientist, and a spoken word artist. Each of the fifteen TED Talks delivered that day centered around the theme: “What do you wonder?” As an audience, we laughed, cried, and shouted in agreeance with the speakers. Nearly everyone received a standing ovation.

The afternoon session of the event focused on women’s empowerment and featured all female speakers. A special highlight was the emcee’s interview with Tamika D. Mallory, a social justice advocate known for her role as co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington. Mallory’s work inspired over five million to come together worldwide for women’s equality on January 21, 2017, including over 100,000 in Denver’s own Civic Center Park. Mallory’s ultimate advice was to follow women, especially women of color because “we know how to draw the map and drive the car.” She also challenged attendees to stand up for people that they typically do not, because in the fight for social justice, “… our pain [and liberation] is together.”

Another highlight was the final speaker Christian Picciolini, an award-winning peace advocate and former skinhead. Picciolini described his previous lifestyle as a white supremacy group leader and admitted that the hate music he produced decades ago inspired the mass church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015. Several of us in the audience were stunned. Picciolini concluded by encouraging audience members to treat people we dislike with compassion because they least expect it. His theory is that extremists have “potholes,” or parts of their life journeys that lack demonstrations of kindness and love. Since reforming, Picciolini has helped over 200 violent extremist leaders disengage.

Although Mallory and Picciolini have different life experiences, their advice for improving the world is similar: be kind to people unlike you and un-liked by you. This made me wonder… can the ideas from a Black female championing a new age civil rights movement and a former neo-Nazi leading an anti-hate campaign remain separate campaigns or should they be combined? As marketers, what tactic do we use to expand a single idea?

A visit to Mallory and Picciolini’s websites and social media profiles illustrate their unique platforms and audiences. Mallory serves as a change agent for multiple social justice issues in the Black community, while Picciolini advocates peaceful relationships as a strategy to end hate and #makegoodhappen. Some marketers feel that an undifferentiated marketing strategy, which is mass communicating a single idea to a perceived homogenous population, to be the best solution. However, the mission of TED, much like the goal of marketing professionals, is to spread powerful ideas that change attitudes and lives. I believe that the ideas of TED Speakers like Mallory and Picciolini are meant to remain independent because that’s when they are most compelling, most impactful, and make us wonder.

Brinton Taylor