Each year, I return with pride as a co-curator and producer of TEDxBerkeley, now in its 12th year. This year, the theme was Kaleidoscope and the speakers talks reflect it in some unique way. Let’s take a look at some of this year’s speakers, all of whom presented on the prestigious Zellerbach Hall stage in Berkeley, California.
Cole Cuchna: The Power of Listening. Musicians know that the art of listening is not just listening to the noise that fills a space but also the emptiness or silence between the noise, or if in the case of an instrument, between the notes being played. I learned this when I moved from piano to guitar, the latter of which I could never quite master. I also learned this in dancing (what we do when we aren’t stepping to a beat) and qigong and tai chi masters understand this as well. It comes down to the art of listening.
A passionate musician, Cole gave a talk on the power of truly listening which allows magic to unfold, allowing us to think about the world in a different way.
His background: Cole studied classical composition at the School of Music at Sacramento State University, where he graduated with honors and founder of Dissect, a podcast that fused his teenage love for contemporary music with the academic analysis skills he learned in college. Each season analyzes the music, lyrics, and meaning of a single album, with each episode dedicated to a single song. After two seasons publishing independently, Cole joined Spotify and since then, Dissect was named a top podcast by countless major media outlets.
Fyodor Urnov: Imagining CRISPR Cures.So what is CRISPR, you ask? Think of it as a family of DNA sequences found in the genomes of prokaryotic organisms like archaea and bacteria for example and it is being used as a “gene editing tool” to change how diseases can be cured by altering the DNA. Using CRISPR-based genome and epigenome editing, his talk was to get us all to rethink disease, especially rare diseases and how new advancements with CRISPR and beyond, can be implemented to bring solutions to those who feel there is no hope or research/organizations paying attention to their diseases and possible cures. Fyodor’s talk empowered us to commit to cure for the small percentage of people who may have rare diseases and as a result, have lost hope.
His background: He is Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the UC Berkeley and Director at its Innovative Genomics Institute, where he leads the Center for Translational Genomics and directs the Technology & Translation division. As a pioneer in the field of therapeutic genome editing, his research focuses on advancing genome editing technology and pushing the boundaries of how it can be applied to solve real-world biomedical problems. At Sangamo Therapeutics, Fyodor and his team, demonstrated the first use of native gene editing in human cells and coined the term “genome editing.” Fyodor then led collaborative teams to establish at-scale applications of genome editing for human somatic cell genetics and model animal and crop reverse genetics.
Nina Davuluri: The Cost of Beauty from a Miss America. If you’re a woman reading this and over the age of 40, you’ll resonate with much that Nina has to say about the pressures put on you as a woman growing up in the 1960’s through the 1980’s, from traditional advertising to direct pressures in academic and social life. Add color to being a woman during that time, and you know Nina’s challenges, especially once you’ve moved into the public eye and in her case, a very public eye as Miss America. She tells her own story on stage, sharing many raw and vulnerable moments and the impact it had on her emotional health.
As I looked around, I saw teary eyes in the audience and felt my own for when we can shed the skin of how others would like to perceive us or even project us to be, then we can stand in our purest form and allow our internal spirit to shine. Nina’s spirit shone brightly as she delivered the audience such a profound gift on April 9. It truly was a powerful and riveting talk that broke through the falsities and masks so many women have hid behind for so much of their lives.
Her background: Nina is an acclaimed filmmaker, activist, actor, entrepreneur, and the first South Asian to win Miss America. Her most recent venture combines the network she has cultivated, her love for advocacy, and disrupting global beauty standards by producing her new documentary: COMPLEXion. Raised in a culture sensitive to skin tones, Nina was hyper-aware of the skin lightening industry and how it dramatically influences beauty standards, so she sought to redefine beauty standards by spearheading a campaign against colorism. This led to her sitting on the L’oreal Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board. Nina has also worked with major technology companies to further their women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) initiatives.
Dr. Shamini Jain:We’re Wired to Heal Each Other: The Science of Interconnection. Her riveting talk challenges reductionist thinking by bringing the latest advancements in science, psychology and peer-reviewed research together with what they‘ve learned from her work at the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI), to show just how wired we are, not just to connect with each other but heal as well. Put another way, we are so much more powerful than we think we are and have the ability to heal ourselves and others both emotionally and physically.
Personally, we’ve seen this first hand in our own work, but to have data to back up what the ancient sages across cultures have taught and subscribed to for thousands of years, is a lesson for traditional medicine to do what it always should: challenge, dig deeper for better answers and move beyond materialist views into world that deserves more funding, support and credibility.
Her background: She serves humanity as a psychologist, scientist, and social entrepreneur. Shamini is the founder and CEO of the Consciousness and Healing Initiative (CHI), a nonprofit collaborative accelerator that connects scientists, health practitioners, educators, and artists to help lead humanity to heal ourselves which is the topic of her best selling book: Healing Ourselves: Biofield Science and the Future of Health. She also serves as adjunct faculty at UC San Diego, where she is an active member of the UC San Diego Center for Integrative Medicine’s Research Committee.
Dr. Julia Schaletzky: Overcharged and Underserved – Blind Spots in Healthcare. This is a personal hot topic for me largely because I’ve not only experienced the atrocities as a patient of the broken healthcare system, but because I also experience the opposite — actual care without worrying about going bankrupt for a simple procedure from living in Europe.
Her talk was precisely on that juxtaposition, using an example of one patient to underline the issue: a simple procedure for a leg infection which a simple antibiotic could have fixed ended up resulting in a medical bill half her annual salary. She ended with solutions, asking us not to be complacent but active participants in not succumbing to the current status quo.
Her background: Julia is as interdisciplinary biomedical scientist and entrepreneur who is active both the private sector and academia, who is interested in global public health, health equity, and the governance of processes that end up influencing who gets care and who does not. She is the Executive Director of the Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases at the University of California, Berkeley, as well as of the Drug Discovery Center and Immunotherapy and Vaccine Research Initiative. She focuses on interdisciplinary approaches and public/private partnership for the discovery and development of new therapies and tools, particularly for unmet medical needs. She has received NIH-funded grants to support underrepresented minorities and women in STEM in the U.S. and runs a program in Uganda to build local research capacity.
Nyesha Arrington: Identity, Through the Lens of a Chef. When we think of food, we often associate the visual memory of it and the taste with a powerful emotional experience. Examples include a unique dish you ate for the first time in a foreign country, the comfort you felt from your mother’s homemade recipe or a platter you shared with friends at an important anniversary or birthday.
Nyesha brought all of it back to identity through a myriad of fascinating ways, using examples from her own life, starting with her first experience with food as a child: her Korean grandmother on one side and her American southern grandmother on the other side. Not every child gets the opportunity to have such diversity at such a young age and these memories shaped how she viewed the world, her own identity and what she ultimately wove into her own recipes as a famous chef.
Her background: She is an award winning chef and culinary creative with an endless passion for how ingredients and tradition bring cultures together. She touts her earliest gig as sous chef to her Korean grandmother, as a powerful and memorable way that she was able to practice her culinary arts at such an early age. Arrington has worked under Joël Robuchon at L’Atelier and The Mansion, was a fan favorite on Top Chef Season 12 and went on to win Knife Fight and Chef Hunter television competitions. She is a steward of local produce, a food waste warrior, was named a past Zagat 30 under 30 honoree and above all, a culinary artist.
Coss Marte: The Power of Untapped Talent. For so long, humanity has stereotyped prisoners into a category of undesirables, which puts an ignorant blanket over everyone who stands behind bars. It hasn’t been status quo for humanity to consider otherwise, never mind those in roles who could help prisoners find hope and turn their live around.
Marte’s message is bold and strong as he has directly demonstrated from his own personal experiences. He asserts that there is so much untapped talent that once nurtured, can be a proud examples to others, both inside and outside the prison system.
His background: He was ringleader of a multi-million dollar drug operation, a time in which he was also overweight and warned by his physician that if he didn’t change his lifestyle, he was heading towards death. Faced with this grim prognosis, Coss started to get in shape using the tools he had — his prison cell and his own body weight. Within six months, he lost 70 pounds and replicated his successful formula of body weight exercises with 20 other inmates. This led to the launch of CONBODY, a prison style bootcamp that gained over 70,000+ clients and has hired 50+ formerly incarcerated individuals to teach fitness classes. Coss is now co-founder of Second Chance Studios, a non-profit which trains and helps employ formerly incarcerated individuals to become experts in audio engineering, video production, and podcasting.
Brian Swimme: The Third Story of the Universe. This talk was about something Brian refers to as the Noosphere, which many of you have likely not heard of. I certainly hadn’t before hearing his first run through during our TEDxBerkeley rehearsals. As Brian describes in his talk, “Opinions range from the idea that the noosphere is simply an interconnected network of computers all the way to the radical notion that the noosphere is an entity, a new kind of global organism.” Among other examples, he uses the construction of the James Webb Space Telescope as the noosphere in action as an independent entity.
His background: Brian is a Director of the nonprofit, Third Story at Human Energy and a professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program, where he regularly teaches and speaks on a variety of topics related to the universe, gravitational dynamics and beyond. His published work includes the popular YouTube video series, The Story of the Noosphere, written with Monica DeRaspe-Bolles, The Universe is a Green Dragon, The Universe Story written with Thomas Berry, The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, and The Journey of the Universe written with Mary Evelyn Tucker. Swimme teamed with Tucker and David Kennard to produce “Journey of the Universe,” an Emmy-winning film released in 2011.
Alexandr Wang: Why AI Will Never Replace Humans. Drawing upon his background at MIT, which combined both math and IT, his talk was focused on artificial intelligence (AI) which aimed to address some of the fears that so many people have around the notion that AI will eventually replace humans. From sci-fi film scary scenarios to real examples of robots replacing jobs once occupied by human beings, each of us has their own threshold of accepting 0AI into our future lives. He cited examples of why he feels it will never be the case.
His background: Alex is the founder of Scale while at MIT, where he studied mathematics and computer science, he discovered the potential of AI, which led to founding a company dedicated to creating long-term AI strategies by providing powerful AI data and tools. He recognized that he could accelerate companies’ abilities to deploy AI by combining a machine learning-powered data labeling system with human insight to ensure models are trained on high-quality, trusted datasets. The same company has grown to a $7 billion valuation, serving hundreds of clients across multiple industries.
Dr. Laura Esserman: WISDOM: Assuring Tomorrow is Better than Today. Her talk struck an emotional chord for me. Why? Because like countless women, we’ve all been touched by breast cancer and although it was closer for me (my grandmother and mother), we‘ve all likely lost someone to or been one step removed from the impact of breast cancer. Esserman asserts that we have been using old methods for screening which unlike other developments in the world (from the iPhone and cars to travel booking and beyond), simply hasn’t developed, hence her title.
WISDOM stands for its true definition but also for a Wisdom Study, which tests a personalized approach to breast cancer screening in 100,000 women, which she encouraged women to join. The study helps to move the needle forward to the current century, allowing us to truly screen in a way that is unique to each woman, rather than dumping us into the same buckets. She uses simple but profound examples across industries to exemplify her point, while asking us to help move a new way of thinking forward. In other for change to happen, a PUSH needs to happen on both sides, otherwise we can never be empowered to be active participants in our healing process.
Her background: Laura is a doctor and internationally-recognized visionary whose work is all about revolutionizing breast cancer screening. She serves as Director of the UCSF Carol Franc Buck Breast Care Center, where her work is devoted to developing new, more effective ways to care for and empower breast cancer patients during treatment. She led the creation of the University of California Breast Health Network, a learning system designed to integrate clinical care and research as it follows 150,000 women from screening through treatment and outcomes. Her breast cancer work spans a spectrum from basic science to public policy issues and the impact of both on the delivery of clinical care, empowering patients to become partners in their own health care.
Grace Gu: From Nature to AIs: Better Materials for Better Lives. This talk woke me up to something I don’t consider in my daily life and quite frankly, unless you’re in the field of material sciences, its not likely on your radar either. Grace Gu is committed to building a better, more sustainable world through materials discovery and manufacturing and uses AI and other innovations to do it.
Her talk started out with a simple bridge, using it as an example of something that requires a serious consideration of “material” for it needs to be strong enough to be safe enough to withstand thousands of pounds over many years. There are countless other materials we don’t think about, such as what goes into a tooth filling or an implant. Grace pointed to nature as a way for us to learn but then moved onto AI as a way to advance the needle in powerful ways, including beyond our current realm of linear thinking.
Her background: Grace serves as a professor at UC Berkeley and leads the Gu Research Lab which aims to create materials with customizable properties and functionalities across a wide spectrum of applications, including lightweight aerospace structures, resilient biomedical devices, and flexible bioinspired actuators. Gu and her team strive to facilitate a path for on-demand materials fabrication in this ever-expanding world through smarter, more sustainable, and accessible 3D-printing methods driven by artificial intelligence. Gu received her PhD and MS in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan. She has received countless awards and was named one of MIT Technology Review 35 Innovators under 35 in the category of Pioneer.
Ien Chi: Stop Trying to Change Yourself. Ien takes us on a journey of his life and touches upon mental health as well and his challenges of his life as an entrepreneur and never feeling as if he was enough. This goes back to the common phrase in some spiritual circles: self-love, it starts here. When we are constantly trying to change ourselves to meet the needs of others around us — to belong, to be accepted, to feel loved — we are in constantly turmoil because rarely from that place, are we in the present moment.
When we are in the present moment, we stop looking at the world through “what if’s” or “if only I was like this or could be like this” and we simply accept life for what it is, in all of its beautiful and diverse valleys. From that place comes acceptance and self-love. There’s no need to exert effort on changing ourselves or changing others, for with it only comes suffering.
His background: Ien is Chief Creative of Mindset, a venture-backed wellness platform at DIVE Studios aimed at revealing the deeper humanity of celebrities through more vulnerable audio-based storytelling. He is the former Creative Director of Jubilee, where he led the team to make some of YouTube‘s more popular shows such as Middle Ground, Spectrum, Odd Man Out, and Versus 1 – which have collectively garnered 1B+ views.
Zuriel Oduwole: Raising Your Hands High. As a young entrepreneur and advocate, Zuriel is not a newcomer to a stage since she has been asking tough questions and speaking to luminaries since a child. Her voice has been an inspiration to millions of girls, women and families, around the world and Zuriel’s talk was simple, not complex, which is one of the things that made it so compelling. How many of you remember sitting in a classroom, a seminar, a lecture or even a social setting, but were afraid to voice your truth?
Perhaps you didn’t have the confidence to even ask a question, which is precisely what she asserts is necessary in order to move you from feeling insignificant to the truly powerful individual that you are. Put another way, we all deserve a voice and we are all smart enough (and worthy enough) to warrant a spot on any stage, however big or small. Simply raising your hand high is pivotal to getting there, for it crosses us over an important bridge: the one that stands between the invisibles and the visibles. What will you choose?
Her background: Zuriel is known as the world’s youngest filmmaker, but even more known for her international development work and advocacy for girls’ education in Africa. At the age of 10, she was listed among 33 women who had changed the world by ELLE Magazine. Oduwole has met with over 30 world leaders to address Global Social Development and Education Challenges, has spoken in 19 countries about the power of education and addressed COP23 delegates in Bonn, demonstrating the confluence between climate change and education. When she is not advocating for girls’ education, she teaches a filmmaking class for unemployed young women, a program she has now delivered in Ghana, Ethiopia, Mexico, Côte D’Ivoire, and Namibia.
Poulomi Saha: Indian Spirituality at the Heart of Early America. Not everyone may realize that Indian Spirituality is deeply rooted in American society and this is where her talk took us: to the heart of it. She points to examples in American history including the fascination in Indian spirituality by early presidents such as Thomas Jefferson.
Her background: Poulomi is a professor at UC Berkeley and a scholar of postcolonial studies, ethnic American literature, and critical theory, she has conducted research that span eastward and forward from the late 19th century decline of British colonial rule in the Indian Ocean through to the Pacific and the rise of American global power and domestic race relations in the 20th century. Her book, Fascination: America’s “Hindu” Cults considers the allure and scandal of Indian spirituality in America. She writes and teaches about gender, sexuality, race, and empire.
Performers were equally powerful. Let’s start with the one who shook up the entire audience and got everyone up dancing and singing with his electric personality and vibrant energy. Ace Patterson, also known as Call Me Ace, is a Billboard-charting hip-hop artist, music tech professional and creative entrepreneur who challenges the status quo. His music covers a myriad of sociocultural topics drawn from his own life experiences, including: the need for diversity and equity in the workplace, mental health struggles, the first-generation immigrant’s dilemma, the challenges of building generational wealth, persevering through intense adversity, and more. I LOVED his performance as he took us all on a diverse rollercoaster from participatory experiences to sadness, anger, humility, struggle and humor all in under fifteen minutes. Enuf said: Wow is the finish line.
- Above and below: Call me Ace
Call Me Ace released his debut album, Airplane Mode (2019), which debuted #3 on the iTunes Top 40 US Hip-Hop Album and #50 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Album Sales charts. In June 2020, Ace released Working From Home: Extended and donated 100% of the proceeds (over $10,000) towards combating the criminalization of Black and Brown communities in the USA. Bravo bravo!
We also had a compelling dance performance from the AFX Dance troupe which was founded by Ping Quach, Geoffrey Chen, and Rosemary Hua to give dancers an opportunity to learn about and participate in dance culture and be part of an ongoing community. Their name AFX reflects their three pillars—Aspirations, Family, Experience—and their philosophy of creating a family environment for dancers to build up the confidence and support to reach new heights.
- AFX Dance Company
Ballet Folklorico Reflejos de Mexico, referred to as “Reflejos”, also graced us with their talent. They are a Mexican folklorico dance group that promotes cultural diversity at UC Berkeley and in the greater San Francisco/Bay area. Their aim is to educate others about Mexican and Latino culture through music, art, and dance.
- Ballet Folklorico Reflejos de Mexico
The Fei Tian Dancers gave us an entirely different dance style. They are the one and only Chinese dance team at UC Berkeley. As a Registered Student Organization, they aim to bring more awareness of Chinese classical and ethnic cultures to the bigger community and in their art, they incorporate classical, ethnic and modern Chinese dances into its repertoire through a combination of original choreography and traditional works.
- Fei Tian Dancers
Celli@Berkeley performed four pieces for us as well. They have performed modern works by composers in the Bay Area such as Michael Nicholas, Daniel Leo, and Anica Galindo. I was amused to hear Mama Mia, my first time hearing it by four cellists. I have to admit, I really did want to get up and dance and I sensed others around me who wanted to do the same.
Lastly, let’s not forget voice. I‘ve always been a fan of a cappella and thrilled that each year, we‘ve always had an a cappella group performance. This year, the honors went to Drawn to Scale, an all gender a cappella group founded at UC Berkeley.
- Drawn to Scale
Of course, this incredible event isn’t possible without a team and I was so proud to see how well our TEDxBerkeley student team did this year. It was a monumental and integrated effort that makes our events shine year after year. Remember too, that this was our first live event since they pandemic restrictions have lifted. All I can say is bravo bravo bravo! Be sure not to miss next year’s event — we’ll be posting links to the speaker’s talks once the videos have been processed.
The Speaker Dinner
Below is a shot taken of our informal speaker dinner where we presented speakers with a token of our thanks, which included creative portraits done by artist Jeremy Sutton who is known for his combination of combining traditional artistic methods with the digital world. He is also the author of Fractal Design Painter Creative Techniques and the Painter 4 Video Training Series.
Behind the Scenes
Now, let’s have a look behind the scenes…
- Practicing before performance time in the green room…
- Shamini and Renee (some self portrait fun)
- Renee, Ace, Anthony outside after the event…