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TEDx Savannah: Personal, local, universal
Annual event this year focuses on questions of building community
A scene from the 2015 Tedx Savannah

TEDx Savannah

When: June 24, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.

Where: Jepson Center for the Arts


EVERY STRONG community needs leaders who are willing to share certain ideas and experiences that will promote progress.

This is the message that will be promoted at the upcoming TEDxSavannah event on June 24, where there will be a mixture of leaders from different industries sharing similar ideas about how their experiences shaped their perceptions of community involvement.

The TEDx program is one focused on local, self-organized events that are intended to bring people together for the exact purpose of spreading ideas by fostering an environment of discussion. By combining the presence of live speakers with the addition of interactive video presentations, a connection between those ideas and members of those communities can be established.

This was the intended goal when the idea of a local TEDx event in Savannah was introduced seven years ago by The Creative Coast. The Creative Coast was founded in 1997 by a group of volunteers within the Coastal Business & Technology Alliance of Savannah with the purpose of nurturing members of the community engaged in creative or innovative endeavors and to create an environment in which they thrive.

Since then, with support from The City of Savannah and the Savannah Economic Development Authority, the organization has grown to include events such as TEDxSavannah.

Among this year’s speakers will be Beverly Willett. Willett began a career as a New York City entertainment attorney before deciding to transition towards a career in journalism where she has written for publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Throughout this transition, she faced challenges such as lower income, a struggling economy, and an eventual divorce. Instead of labeling these challenges as obstacles, she refers to them as being a part of a process.

“I’m a big proponent of paying your dues. I think in our society we tend to think that things ought to be quick and easy but you need to patient,” Willett says.

This transition eventually included a move to Savannah three years ago when she realized that she wanted a fresh start in a new environment. In her mind, Savannah would serve as the ideal place for her to flourish.

“I felt really comfortable here. I got this vibe that I got every time that I visited here,” says Willett.

As a current board member of the Chatham-Savannah Authority for the Homeless, Willett also realizes the importance of the issue of community involvement which is promoted by TEDx.

“Some of the problems that we have tend to occur when we become isolated and when we take ourselves out of that community,” she says. This message is also supported by the other leaders who will speak at the event.

Peter Ulrich is someone who has been involved with public education for 14 years. Apart from being an educator, he has established a connection with those in his community by focusing on issues such as domestic violence and family reunification. He realizes that this sort of involvement is key to improving lives and futures and is a major reason why he chose education as a career path.

“I saw a lot of kids who really needed to connect and needed to find a way to move themselves out of their current situations. Education seemed to be like the great equalizer and serve as the way they could make their lives better,” he says.

Now as the principal of the STEM Academy at Bartlett he focuses on creating a culture, similar to the one promoted by TEDx, in which individuals feel supported and everyone has opportunity to be engaged. This culture is what allowed the academy to be named the number one middle grades STEM program in the United States by the Future of Education Technology Conference, but more importantly have an impact on students who are being exposed to different opportunities.

“They have a lot of ways that they can show us what they know and they seem to be very excited about that,” says Ulrich.

As a fellow educator, who is the assistant director of Communications at the Savannah Country Day School, Courtnay Papy is also familiar with how important education can be to unlocking the potential of young students. She also realizes the importance of community involvement and how it can transform the potential of an entire area.

As the lead organizer of Emergent Savannah, she committed herself towards engaging others to take action.

“Just showing up as much as possible and not just doing things that you are familiar with is very important.” As one of this year’s speakers at TEDxSavannah, she hopes this message will continue to reach more people.