by Mark Kemp
The most inspiring moment at Saturday's TEDxCharlotte conference at Queens University came via video from India. Charlotte-based actor and Actor's Lab founder J.D. Lewis sat with his two boys in Varanasi near the Ganges River, telling a packed Dana Auditorium here in the Queen City how his 13-year-old son Jackson's dream of helping people around the world became the creative seed that bore Twelve In Twelve, the family's journey across the globe to 12 countries in 12 months.
They talked of teaching English to Tibetan exiles in India; meeting the Dalai Lama in the foothills of the Himalayas; working with elephants in Thailand, where the animals are in danger of becoming extinct; visiting an orphanage in China; and helping runaway teens in Russia.
The Lewis family's bright idea was just one of many that came during "Dream Makers and Risk Takers," the theme of this year's TEDxCharlotte conference, the local version of the worldwide nonprofit organization that stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, and whose mission is to disperse "ideas worth sharing." TED events are like motivational seminars for creative thinkers and doers.
The Queens University campus was abuzz from about 9 a.m. until late afternoon on Oct. 15 with hundreds of creative-minded Charlotteans — artists, musicians, photographers, writers, scientists, intellectuals, computer geeks, activists, entrepreneurs, philanthropists — all there to hear speaker after speaker talk of starting record labels, doing humanitarian work, publishing books, forging online environments for techies and much more.
Dolph Ramseur, modest owner of the tiny, Concord-based Ramseur Records and manager of the not-so-tiny Avett Brothers, talked about the "power in the small" and said he started his little label "as a way of me making a mix-tape for the world." Fast-talking Hackerspace Charlotte president Max Wallace told the audience that "the rapid proliferation of knowledge is colliding with manufacturing and technology and revolutionizing the way we live.” He also wondered if, in today's environment of information overload, our desire "to be correct is greater than our desire to figure it out ourselves." And poet Kirsten Hemmy asked the audience to collectively close its eyes and listen.
At lunch, participants were treated to a choice of vegetarian, chicken or turkey sandwiches while Scott Swimmer and his drumSTRONG percussion ensemble — which had performed earlier — took the energy outside in stunning fall weather. I sat with Ramseur and photographer Mitchell Kearney, talking about the breakup of R.E.M., the success of the Avett Brothers and the formation of bands and art collectives not yet known of. It was a heady morning — and then I was off to the uptown demonstration against the anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, and then to the OccupyCharlotte campsight at 600 E. Trade Street for the group's daily general assembly meeting.
Not a bad autumn weekend in the Queen City. Who says Charlotte's just a bunch stuffy bankers?