TEDxBerkeley 2017 Constellates Unheard Voices & Ideas

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If you’re like me and crave knowledge, inspiration, creativity and awe-inspiring content in any form, you’re likely a fan of TEDTalks and TEDx Events. TEDx events for those not familiar with them, are TED-style events at the local level. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis, under a free license from TED.

This year’s TEDxBerkeley, now in its 8th year, took over Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley California on April 15, 2017.

Above photo credit: Halina Veratsennik

Let’s start with a topic I think gets less play on the global stage than it should: our emotional connection to money, something that Lynne Twist has dedicated her life to domestically and globally.

Lynne Twist

Do you actually know what your relationship with money is and how it impacts your life? Is it free flowing or are you constantly stressed over money and fear you don’t or (won’t) have enough? Truth be told, you can have plenty of money in the bank, but still feel deprived. Alternatively, you can have very little in the bank and feel that there’s plenty of abundance in your life – spiritually, emotionally and yes, even financially.

I grew up in New England and my grandparents (who raised me) were born at the start of the century, lived through a few wars and went through hard times. You may be from that generation and know what I’m talking about and if you’re from Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, it will resonate even more. She works on making that somewhat dysfunctional relationship we have as a society with money, a healthy one.

Additionally, Lynne Twist is committed to alleviating poverty and hunger and supporting social justice and environmental sustainability.  She’s the founder of the Soul of Money Institute and has written a book about it. (available in paperback and on Kindle)

In the west, we have a “sick” relationship with money and living and working in Silicon Valley, I’ve seen the worst side of it. If we were to free ourselves from the tyranny of the control money has over us and the meaning we give to it, serenity, contribution and love would prevail.

From working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta to the refugee camps in Ethiopia and the threatened rain forests of the Amazon,  Lynne’s breadth of knowledge and experience has lead her to profound insights about why a healthy relationship with money is the answer to some of the world’s deepest problems.

Moving from money to science and medicine, meet Loretta Falcone who flew over from Italy to lead us on a journey that opened our minds and touched our hearts.

Loretta Falcone

Loretta taps into intuition and she does it often yet as a NASA trained scientist, she has more than dabbled in the world of scientific and left brain thinking.

Above photo credit: Halina Veratsennik

After dedicating her life as a scientist to the analysis of data in NASA’s Jet Propulsion laboratory where she developed “machine learning” and artificial intelligence techniques, her life was turned upside down when her son became ill.

Loretta was forced to explore out-of-the-box options to uncover the truth, using her maternal intuition and deep instinct with her methodical and rational approach to science, to dive into research and beyond. This led to an understanding of what happened to her son, which was far from conventional wisdom as we know it.

Her story teaches us that there’s so much we don’t know. When we see the world of any problem through the fresh eyes of a child free from the conventional lenses of entrenched expertise, there is a simple awakening that can illuminate the big ah-ha of a great hypothesis. And, she did.  As someone who believes that the power of intuition, passion and creativity is far greater than the power of knowledge, I am a huge fan of this approach to problem solving.

Speaking of passion and intuition, let’s move onto its cousin: happiness. A visionary named Mike Duffy is committed to spreading it around the globe.

Mike Duffy

As the founder of the Happiness Hall of Fame, Mike has been researching happiness for over 30 years and is the author of several books and guides.

On the Zellerbach Hall stage, Mike focused on the power of friends and relationships. I couldn’t help but think of the book, Never Eat Alone, which is a great read, but Mike’s work goes much much deeper. True happiness and pure joy is far far beyond having a network of positive relationships that help your business, your wallet and your social life.

Mike is also a philanthropist whose work with the Happiness Hall of Fame and beyond, is to recognize, encourage and celebrate people that make other people happy. What a noble and pure vision and life goal — I love what Mike is doing and his warm spirit was a treasure at this year’s event.

He has written a bunch of happy books as well, including The Happiness Book: A Positive Guide to Happiness, The Happiness Book for Men, the Happiness Book for Kids and others.

From happiness to drones? Yeah, why not. Meet another Mike who spoke at TEDxBerkeley stage this year: Mike Roberts whose work is centered around drones and drone research. Its fitting that I put Mike Roberts after Mike Duffy, because in addition to being incredibly smart, the man is funny.

Mike Roberts

As a Computer Graphics Robotics Researcher at Stanford University, Mike’s work is incorporating drones to support human creativity and his joint work with the Harvard Center for Brain Science has been featured worldwide.

In addition to being smart and funny, notice that he’s also a snazzy dresser. Who doesn’t love a great bow tie?

This creative energizing speaker has worked with Jeff Lichtman at the Harvard Center for Brain Science to develop new image analysis methods for nanometer-scale images of brain tissue and it was featured in BBC Horizon, The Guardian, Huffington Post, National Geographic, Nature News, The New York Times, and Popular Science.

Mike also co-developed the Introduction to Parallel Programming course at Udacity.

Minh Dang

As an advocate on Human Trafficking, Minh Dang was one of 15 AAPI Women named a Champion of Change by President Obama.

She’s a manager at a consulting firm and currently a Co-Principal Investigator for a community-based research study funded by the National Institute of Justice entitled, ‘Researcher-Survivor-Ally Formative Evaluation of San Francisco’s Anti-Trafficking Task Forces’.

Her story is a courageous one, one which will touch everyone’s hearts and did. Minh was first publicly identified as a survivor of slavery and incest in 2008, when MSNBC featured her story of slavery in a documentary. She shared her story and why talking about it makes it real and can help change things. Today, she provides guidance and mentorship to survivors and beyond.

Mayra Lozano

Given the volume of news lately on the crack down on immigration, it was awe-inspiring and brave to hear from an undocumented student at Berkeley who shared her story.

As a junior who is pursuing a degree in Legal Studies and Chicano Studies, Mexican-born Mayra Lozano spoke up about the importance of unity in a country as diverse as the United States, one known for being a melting pot around the world.

She is a first generation low-income student who also wears a hat as an activist and organizer.

Above two photo credits: Halina Veratsennik

Mayra is crossing borders, breaking barriers, and taking risks by voicing her concerns and not allowing herself to be silenced into the shadows. She remembers that as a child the border represented the geographical line that had the power to take all dreams from her. It is frustrating to see the door of opportunity open, and not be allowed to walk through.

Questions of insecurity arise such as: “Will I come home and find my parents where they were before I left for school this morning? Do I have a say in my future?” Being a part of a land where you are not truly accepted is a harsh reality for millions in the United States. She reminded the audience that we were all once immigrants too. Hear hear.

Tai Tran

Named the youngest Forbes 30 under 30, Tai is a LinkedIn top voice in marketing and advertising, followed by over 100,000 marketers and executives around the world.

He ran Apple’s Twitter account before graduating from Berkeley and mentors others on networking, personal branding and social media best practices. He’s currently the head of Content & Brand at SelfScore and you can follow him on Twitter @TaicTran.

Vivienne Ming

If you think that’s remarkable for 23, imagine being a transgender neuroscientist. Introducing Vivienne Ming, whose work as a theoretical neuroscientist and technologist, focuses on machine learning and cognitive neuroscience to maximize student’s life outcomes.

It wasn’t neuroscience that she spoke about on stage on April 15 however, but her transition from Evan Smith to Vivienne Ming, and how her career and marriage got through it and beyond.

“Imagine being trapped in a life you don’t want, a fate you can’t change. Imagine people deciding who you are with a glance — and getting it wrong, every time.” — Vivienne Ming

Her message was powerful, and I felt went far beyond “being as good as you can be,” which is what she echoed in her talk. It’s about courage to accept yourself exactly who you are regardless of what that identity is and following through with it, regardless of how far it takes you.

For Vivienne, it was transformative and included medical procedures although she says that surgery doesn’t have to be part of the process for everyone. In light of what is happening in the states currently and the discussions which may potentially affect legislation, this kind of courage is needed. There’s a great article on what she went through on Huffington Post which is worth a read. 

Brian Malow

While we’re chatting about science from neuroscience to our genders, imagine science wrapped in humor? Science comedy is Brian Malow’s world and has been for most of his life.

Bri­an Mal­ow calls himself Earth’s Pre­mier Sci­ence Come­di­an and has per­formed for NSF, AAAS, JPL, NIST, ACS, AGU – and many oth­er acronyms.

From making sci­ence videos for Time Magazine’s web­site to training sci­en­tists to become bet­ter speak­ers, he’s been fea­tured on The Late Late Show with Craig Fer­gu­son, co-hosted shows on The Weath­er Chan­nel, and been pro­filed in Nature, the New York Times and more.

TEDx talks are often a combination of highly intellectual and inspirational but can also be a bit heady at times, so it was refreshing to have a burst of humor in between it all.

Bravo to Brian to bringing tears to our eyes and helping us look at the funny side of science, from planets, stars and the cosmos to dinosaurs and gravity.

Esther Wojcicki

Esther is an educator and someone I met when I first moved to the Bay Area. At the time, new media was a new phrase and didn’t really have a definition yet. Social media hadn’t really emerged at least not in the form we know today, and we barely had blogging tools or sharing platforms.

I’ve always admired her work, known for transforming how we teach and learn about media in the classroom. As founder of the Palo Alto High School Media Arts Program, which has become one of the largest and most distinguished scholastic media programs in the country, she is committed to experiential learning and looking at education in a visionary way.

During my early days in California, Creative Commons was just starting to get attention, so given her work, it should be no surprise that she is Vice Chair of their board of directors.

She is also on the Board of Trustees of the Developmental Studies Center and on the Board of Governors of the Alliance for Excellent Education on the board of Learning Matters, is part of the Advisory Board at the THNK School of Creative Leadership among a myriad of other things. As a writer who values ethical and innovative progression of the discipline, I’m honored to know her and support her life path.

Francois Reyes

As a man who is deeply impacted by the lack of interest of the politicians in France for making people’s lives better and countering extremism, Francois created a global NGO called Citizen’s Awakening following the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in 2015.

Citizen Awakening is trying to bring people together through dialogue and better understanding, with a goal of fighting terrorism worldwide. Francois believes that our most powerful weapon is our ability to speak up and create bridges between different communities and different countries.

Above 2 photo credits: Halina Veratsennik

Francois is also a speaker and ambassador for One Young World and the Quilliam Foundation, and a member of the FATE (Families Against Terrorism & Extremism) network. He’s currently writing a book that will curate voices and solutions of, from and for families who have been impacted in one way or another by terrorism, whether they have lost a family member to a terrorist attack or a child to the extremist-narrative. Bravo for his courage and commitment to a more pluralist and empathetic society.

Fuji Lai

Remember when I said TEDx talks can be a big heady? How about one that is so heady and so powerful that it takes you on a journey into the future, a future that sounds like its light years ahead rather than decades ahead? A vision which blows your world open with new ideas around robots and what they’ll be able to do to better serve humanity?

What I love about Fuji’s work and her energy is how committed she is to the development and use of robotics in a way that helps improve healthcare access and the quality of care for all humans.

A powerful force in the world of bio-robotics, Fuji is revolutionizing the patient and human experience through augmenting human capabilities.

Fuji’s background in biomedical engineering, robotics, human factors design and healthcare consulting. Think telemedicine, medical/surgical robotics, mobile health, human-robot teams, human-machine interfaces, simulation, Virtual Reality and more. She has released 8 products in 5 years including VITA (with iRobot)—world’s first FDA-Class II-cleared robot with one-touch, “go there” autonomous navigation.

From one incredible female spirit to another, meet Jessica Hansen of Kiva.

Jessica Hansen

Kiva has been around for awhile now so if you follow social enterprise, it’s unlikely it’s a new name for you. If you’re not familiar with Kiva, its all about micro-lending, where you can make a loan to an entrepreneur across the globe for as little as $25. In fact, Kiva is the world’s first online lending platform connecting online lenders to entrepreneurs.

Jessica’s role with this non-profit is as their Global Engagement and Education Manager, where she is committed to protecting and empowering refugee women and girls.

She has quite a history helping people around the world who most need it, from her work in rural Kenya, the U.S. Committee for Refugees & Immigrants, Mercy Corps, and the IRC/Women’s Refugee Commission, to the Centre for Refugee Research, and MSF (Doctors Without Borders).

One of the warmest energies and hearts I’ve met in awhile, her energy on stage was about as authentic as it gets. There are some incredible stories from the field on their fellows blog worth reading. Kiva works closely with their Fellows, also referred to as Field Partners, in over 50 countries to make sure loan dollars go where they’re needed most.

Also on a path of improve people’s lives around the world is Anna Lappe, who lives her life in the world of sustainable food and food systems.

Anna Lappe

As an internationally recognized expert on food systems and an author of three books, Anna Lappe works with philanthropists to help fund better health, justice and sustainability across the food chain.

Given that I’ve lived in ten countries and traveled extensively, this topic is near and dear to my heart. First, let’s start with problems in the first world. Even though I now live in the supposedly most advanced and wealthiest country in the world, there’s a health crisis that is directly connected to the amount of sugar and processed food Americans consume every day. Our supermarkets are full of them. Erica Wides, a speaker I invited to speak at TEDxBerkeley in 2013, is a national authority on how to find, afford, cook and eat minimally processed natural foodstuffs, or what she calls, real food.

Anna is the head of the Real Food Media Project, a new initiative to spread the story of the power of sustainable food using creative movies, an online action center, and grassroots events.

Her latest book, Diet for a Hot Planet: The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork and What You Can Do About It around the world (available in paperback and on Kindle), addresses that how we farm, what we eat, and how our food gets to the table all have an impact and how our government and the food industry are willfully ignoring the issue rather than addressing it.

Dr. Andres Roemer

Mexican-born Dr. Andres Roemer is known not just for his work as the curator and co-founder of the International Festival of Bright Minds, but for his large publishing portfolio as well as author of 16 books on freedom, gender and equality.

His work as a Mexican diplomat is profound. He was the UNESCO Mexico’s Ambassador in Paris, France and until last year, served as General Consul of Mexico in San Francisco. He’s the creator of  “Rethinking G20: Designing the Future” and has been involved in over 1,000 TV programs, 300 radio programs and among other books, co-author of Move Up: Why Some Cultures Advance While Others Don’t.

Andres is a passionate and strong voice, a known scholar around the world and a bit of a Renaissance Man, the kind of man you’d love to have a long dinner with, starting with philosophy, psychology, public policy and politics and ending with art, happiness and love.

He’s also courageous and takes a stand for things he believes in and argues that we can’t sit back and watch inequality and injustice happen. Sitting on the sideline eats away at the core of our society and will erode away at your country’s democracy if you’re lucky enough to live in one.

Bravo for his courageous voice!

While we had four performers this year, two of them are also known for storytelling: Brian Malow noted above, and Damien Horne, who hails from Nashville (originally North Carolina) and is so much more than the incredible singer songwriter he is known for.

Damien Horne

Also known as MistaD, Damien’s story started with a sad tale where he watched two brothers die and family members become incarcerated. After he left home, he spent time being homeless in Los Angeles while trying to find his life purpose.

In the south, he is known as a member of the trio The Farm, as well as Nashville’s MuzikMafia, and is very committed to the Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Feet, and other humanitarian organizations.


We discovered Damien while on a cross country trip (#WBTWxCountry) a couple of years ago and were given tickets to one of his Nashville performances. His authenticity, talent and warmth blew us away.

From homeless to a career in bright lights, he has since collaborated and/or performed with Melissa Manchester, Bon Jovi, Kid Rock, John Legend, Hank Williams, Jr. The Commodores, 3 Doors Down, Faith Hill, Big & Rich, Shemekia Copeland, Robert Randolph, Jewel, Josh Kelley, Gretchen Wilson, Velvet Revolver, and The Neville Brothers.

He recorded his first full-length album “Somebody’s Hero” under the direction and production of Big Kenny of Big & Rich, a number he played for us.  Being somebody’s hero is who he has become for so many who have turned to him for inspiration. Be sure to have a listen and be prepared to smile.

“I was meant to fly, meant to shine, gotta find the

better man in me before I die.”

He ended his talk and performance with another song that brings an even bigger smile to my face: SHINE. The idea is that if we all need to shine because only when we do can we pave the way for others to shine too. Damien certainly moved many as I witnessed by the glossy eyes of those in the audience as he walked off stage.


Cal WUSHU is the oldest collegiate wushu club in the nation, dating back to 1987. Their energy brought the house down and even if you’re not into martial arts, you’d be hard pressed not to be awe-inspired by their performance.

WUSHU literally means “martial art” in Chinese and it encompasses all Chinese martial arts, although it commonly refers to contemporary styles.

Wushu is especially known for its use of many different weapons, which include spears, broadswords, rope darts, benches, three section staffs, hook swords, buttefly knives, and many others. And, they used many of them during their performance.


University of California Berkeley Orchestra

There was also an inspiring performance by the University of California Berkeley Orchestra.

Above photo credit: Halina Veratsennik

In 2012, Darin Chhing, the son of Cambodian refugees, began composing a piece blending both Eastern and Western melodies with his culture’s rich musical heritage. As a way to applaud those efforts, orchestra premiered excerpts from Darin’s original composition entitled Singularity, which is dedicated to those impacted by recent terror attacks, the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, and the pressing social and political challenges that constitute adversity in our dynamic global society.

They tout that they’re devoted to fostering a space where curiosity, imagination, innovation, and collective storytelling all thrive in concert.

Above, one of the performers in the Green Room before their performance.

This Year’s Theme: Constellate

So, what’s with the theme Constellate? The idea behind the theme is that while single ideas can shine brightly on their own, constellating ideas creates a broader perspective and therefore a more beautiful image.

The event constellated thousands of unheard voices, uncovered perspectives and unexpected stories through 18 riveting speakers and performers who shared their stories and visionary outlooks.

Creativity was also abound. Introducing The Witness Tree Project, which is an invitation to engage in collaborate Intentional Creativity. Here’s how it works:

An inquire is asked: what are you here to cause and create?  For example, your wishes, dreams, ideas, hopes and intentions. You then declare it while writing it down on a paper leaf and then you contribute that intention to the witness tree.

Imagine if everyone acted with positive intention? What would happen for the greater good of all?

Behind the Scenes

TEDxBerkeley wouldn’t be a success if it weren’t for an incredible team who contributes their passion, time, brains, hearts and hands all year. I remain in awe of the volunteers every year and of this year’s curator Leilani Gutierrez-Palominos (bravo bravo).

I’ve been involved with TEDxBerkeley as co-curator for 7 of its 8 years, including this year, together with with R. Jennifer BarrEach year, I’m so proud of our team who work diligently around the clock with passion, commitment and resolve to make it not just a memorable event, but one which will leave attendees feeling enlightened and inspired to make a positive change in their lives.

What I’ve discovered from doing this for many years now, is that not only do attendees leave with new ideas that are catalysts for new projects and relationships, but speakers do too. And, we had a killer line up this year.

We couldn’t be more thrilled with our incredible speakers and performers who not only shined on stage but touched so many people’s hearts throughout the day.

Above, the team on stage at the end of the event. Below, team members bond behind the scenes in the green room.

Be sure to check out the videos over on the youtube.com/tedx channel, slated to be up sometime this week.


Photo credits: Renee Blodgett except for photos noted by Halina Veratsennik

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