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What TEDx Taught Me

We have the tools to identify and amplify Jacksonville's identity

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A lot of the lunch chat at TEDxJacksonville 
 reflected on something many of us know: Our city has this pesky identity problem. Fortunately, the elephant is finally being called out and named. There's been a palpable energy building among people who care about the place they live — and care to make this the kind of place they want to live. Jacksonville is full of people who moved here; clearly we're an attractive place on the map. This might be precisely why it feels as though a maturation of sorts is occurring. We actually are in the process of deciding what and who we want to be!

Still, the spread — the legendary urban sprawl. What are little ol' individuals living all over the county supposed to do to tap into the energy and effect change? I've been wondering that for a long time. I've been an observer looking for a way to connect. A busy mother: One primary form of my city involvement is that I have four children in four different magnet schools. I'm a writer and entrepreneur, a Web strategy consultant who primarily works out of a home office. I'm an idea freak who loves to think. My personal dream for my city is that it can become the "Seattle of the Southeast." My husband and I travel to great cities and always wonder, "Why can't our great river city become a similar destination?"

But so far, I just listen to "First Coast Connect," follow and attend events like One Spark and JAX2025, and read Folio Weekly. I mostly pray for encouraging winds toward those who have their feet on the ground in making change happen. I really haven't known where to start. And frankly, I think I have previously fallen into the category of residents who assume electing the right government leaders is going to do the job.

Something happened Oct. 26 that opened my mind and, just maybe, was a step toward helping us bloom where we're planted: TEDxJacksonville. First, I want to offer my sincere thanks to the organizers of this event who made it so accessible to the community. I heard about it one sunny morning on the radio during carpool. I sent in my application and was thrilled to get an invitation to be an "Intellectual Explorer."

I've been a TED fan for years. I didn't really spend much time wondering if I'd like our city's event — I was just honored to get to attend! I knew the theme was "Connecting Currents," and my hope was this would be exactly that: a way to connect with some like minds here at home.

Do you realize how serious the case of chills I got was when I heard TEDxJacksonville open with a quote from Chief Seattle?

"Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect."

In his TED talk, Ben Warner of JAX2025 and JCCI said, "We live in communities … that are disconnected," and he showed us a pie graph of change. We have government and business as the primary pieces of the pie puzzle, and what is missing is community. It's our involvement that makes change happen, that changes policies. We the people decide what matters most, and we decide who gets to decide.

Individual involvement was offered at TEDxJacksonville, which then led to connecting currents and shared ideas for change. This common thread wove through nearly every talk and interaction, whether the subject matter was about protecting our rivers, our girls and our children, or understanding why we do what we do and how we do it. It was as relevant to caring about what's going on in the Congo and the middle of the ocean to how we move food and solve hunger. Those are big world problems! They are the kinds of problems that appear so enormous that we feel there is nothing we can do about them. They are the kinds of problems that we might hope government and business will solve and yet … what's missing is involvement.

And that's why I love the essence of TED so much. That room at WJCT was full of people; it was a packed house. We were just ordinary people daring to talk about extraordinary ideas. We were people acting like Legos, individual pieces that together can build a greater good. To attend TEDxJacksonville, we didn't have to be a "mover and a shaker" or an elected city leader or a "bigwig." As I shared on Twitter: "What I see are a lot of people who love our city and want for its good."

I want my kids to love it here. I want them to finish college and fully consider making Jacksonville the place where they work and raise their families. I want people around the country to know why this is a great place to live and to know by name what makes us who we are. I want to see our strengths become our international highlights. My immediate take-away from Oct. 26 is a set of action steps I know I can take to spread the ideas and change the circle closest to me first. It seems the very best place to start. 

After writing for more than 100 industries over eight years as a digital marketing consultant, Levings still likes discovering the ways in which we are all the same. She can be reached at Tia@HiredScribeMedia.com.

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