Every January, the TEDxJacksonville team gathers for our annual retreat where we debate and choose the theme for that year’s conference. This year, inspired by the words of Martin Luther King, we selected Small Great Things as our 2020 theme. (King wrote, “If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”)
Now, six months later, the theme feels uncomfortably, perversely prescient. The year has been hijacked by a small thing (measured in nanometers) of such great and terrifying power that it has altered our lives and our planet.
The coronavirus pandemic also has laid bare some hard truths: Although we’re all weathering the same storm, we’re not all in the same boat. It’s vital that we acknowledge the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, and also that we recognize how systemic inequality and racial injustice have permeated the American experience.
To that end, TEDxJacksonville is introducing Small Great Conversations, a program of virtual gatherings built around honest dialogue about the realities of racial injustice and what each of us can do to stop perpetuating it. This series will feature in-depth conversations with past TEDxJacksonville speakers whose talks have renewed resonance in this year of profound change and heightened clarity. The program will begin in August and take place twice a month through October. It will be free of charge.
We are living through uncharted times. There is little precedent for how to navigate them. But we can still do small things that are great. We can activate empathy and bring visibility to injustice. We can choose every day to think, act, and advocate for equality. And we can each of us commit to ensuring we don’t pass through this period unchanged.
Dr. JeffriAnne Wilder is a sociologist and scholar specializing in diversity, race relations and gender issues. In her 2016 TEDxJacksonville talk, Race Talk: Activating the Power of Self-Definition, she spoke about how racism, sexism, and other interlocking oppressions can create an “outsider-within” status for many black women in higher education, particularly those who are working as professors.
In his 2014 TEDxJacksonville talk, Black Murder Is Normal, Pastor Michael T. Smith argued that the “normalcy” of black murder is engrained in our American culture. Indeed, the idea that a black American would be involved in a homicide—either as perpetrator or victim—is so broadly accepted as to be largely unnoticed. Smith exposes the racism that underlies the appalling lack of outrage at high death rates in the black community, and highlights the hypocrisy of a society that glamorizes violence, but ignores its victims. “It doesn’t take action to keep racism going,” Smith observes, “it takes inaction.”
Phillip A. Singleton is a best-selling author, political strategist, and influencer known as the Hip Hop Lobbyist. In his 2019 TEDxJacksonville talk, Real Change Comes Through Policy, Not Protest, Phillip focused on how the black community—without sacrificing its unique identity and perspective—can become fluent in the rules and language of state politics and effect positive change.
Jeﬀreen M. Hayes, a trained art historian and curator, has developed a curatorial and leadership approach that invites community participation, particularly those in marginalized communities. In her 2018 TEDxJacksonville talk, Arts Activism in Simple Steps, Jeffreen asserted that examining and re-examining the role of artists and creatives as public intellectuals adds a different perspective on our culture’s most polarizing topics.
As a biracial woman, Dr. Tammy Hodo has experienced two different Americas: one for whites and one for blacks. As a Ph.D. social scientist who studies the impacts the variables of race, class, ethnicity, and sex have on life chances, she has incredible insight into how to start the difficult dialogue about the irrelevance of enduring racial constructs. In her 2019 TEDxJacksonville talk, The Social Implications of Race, she explored how, throughout history, perceptions of race have changed over time to justify who should have privilege and who should not. Like race, racial identity can also be fluid. But the social, political, and economic implications of race remain rigidly entrenched.
Brandon Griggs is a student activist and advocate for “at-risk” youth who, like him, have lived in the epicenter of gang and gun violence in Jacksonville and experienced its traumatic effects. In his 2019 TEDxJacksonville talk, The Illiteracy-to-Prison Pipeline, Brandon argued that Juvenile justice reform begins in our kindergarten classrooms, because keeping kids out of prison starts with giving them basic literacy skills.