Many of you have heard me talk about my work with TEDxJacksonville but I don't think everyone understands the role it plays in my life. I was first introduced to TEDxJacksonville in the summer 2012 when a dear friend decided to move to Colorado. Jessica was my saving grace in Jacksonville. I had been a resident for a little over six months and was very unsure if I could call this city my home. I met her before I moved and our friendship made me believe I could make the city mine. She knew that TEDx could serve to be my portal to other likeminded people and help me keep my sanity.
She was right. I joined the organization in its first year, when it was known as TEDxRiversideAvondale. I thought I would get to meet some interesting people and help as needed but I ended up getting immersed as soon as Asghar and I got back from our honeymoon. I met so many dedicated change agents, many who I proudly call friends now. They helped me see the city’s potential. They made me realize that I could get involved and actually be the change I wished to see.
Moving to the bible belt was my choice but I assumed certain things would be a given in a moderately large city like Jacksonville. I thought there would be tolerance and diversity. I thought the city would be open to new ideas and innovations. The reality was different. The city faced many challenges: no human rights ordinance, racism towards a respectable member of the human rights commission, lack of accessible public transportation and a lack of a vibrant downtown, amongst many other things. In many ways it felt like I had gone back in time and the city’s citizens were choosing to live in a bubble and ignore the progress being made in other cities across the country.
But it wasn't just about the city. It was also about me. I didn’t realize what being a change agent really meant. Growing up in New York, I took the city’s policies and amenities for granted. As a teenager, I volunteered at the library and in soup kitchens and assumed that was all that was needed from me. I didn't think about the big picture. I was comfortable with the little I was doing and spending my remaining time with friends and family exploring the city. I wasn’t challenged.
TEDxJacksonville made me realize that leaving my comfort zone was the best thing I could ever do. When there was nobody around for me to spend time with, I actually spent my time figuring out where I could be most useful. I finally got plugged in. I learned about the city and its resources and treasures, its pitfalls and challenges. But teaching myself wasn’t enough. What was I going to do with the information?
I realized that sharing my views and newfound inspiration with other was the best thing I could do. Providing this information in simple and entertaining TEDx events allowed other citizens of Jacksonville to get plugged in and decide where they wanted to help or at the very at least enabled them to learn more on topics of interest and allowed them to make decisions for themselves. It completely takes over my life between the months of August and October and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It allows me to help brilliant people with powerful ideas have a platform to share them with others. The best part is seeing all 350 audience member leave the live conference feeling hopeful, encouraged and believing they can lead or at least support the change they want to see.
I have seen myself and my city transform over my three years as Jacksonville's resident. I have witnessed everyday people influence the culture and help challenge the norms. I have seen myself transform into someone who sees the power of ideas and the potential all around me. It is so easy to be a naysayer and assume things will always be difficult to change. But change starts with small shifts and its ripple effects have the power to go beyond what we ever imagined.
To everyone who sees all the wrong around them, I challenge you to actually do something about it instead of running away from of it or assuming that it isn’t your problem. I promise the feeling of accomplishment afterwards will be unlike anything you have ever experienced.