Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
On Thursday, July 27, we hosted our 8th TEDxFargo event. On Wednesday, July 26, I had the most anxiety-filled day of my career. With nearly 2,000 folks heading to the event to hear the group of 24 speakers I had invited to speak the next day, I was filled with fear that the crowd would reject our speakers, question my motives and look for the worst in me.
For this year’s theme, our crew of talented folks chose to focus on the word “for.” We wanted to counter the current public discourse of antagonism, challenging our audience to think about what folks were supportive of and pushing the conversation away from what people are against. As we went through our curation process of identifying community challenges, national discussions and world concerns, we identified 24 voices to share their ideas on our stage.
As we recruited our speakers and lined up what I believe is the most talented group of presenters to date, I realized that we found voices from a variety of backgrounds, ages, perspectives and beliefs. We worked hard to find lesser-known individuals to share from places and experiences that might be new to a majority of our audience.
During rehearsal the day before the event, I was discussing one of our President’s tweets where he claimed that he would limit the ability for folks from the transgender community to be active in the armed services. Knowing one of our speakers would address the needs of folks in the transgender community, I began to fear that the crowd would reject our speakers.
I started to question the people of Fargo. As I went through the topics and ideas in my head that would be shared the next day, I was filled with concern. The negative voice in my head started to question our community. I started to believe I was the only one in our community capable of exploring diverse topics. My self-righteousness set in.
And all of my fears, the deep seeded ones I told myself would definitely happen, didn’t.
The 1,996 in the room at TEDxFargo did not reject our speakers, they embraced them. They demonstrated an incredible depth of love and encouragement. It was inspiring to see the crowd hug the speakers after their talks, engage them in further conversations and lift up the speakers. Three of our standing ovations during the day were for the students–courageous woman who shared powerful ideas that were met with massive ovations.
The crowd at TEDx this year showed me that our community is open, willing to explore ideas, consider thoughts and discuss challenging topics. I’m fully aware that many folks in the crowd likely did not agree with some of the ideas or perspectives, yet the folks in the room showed and gave their time and attention to our speakers.
The people that attended TEDxFargo became my teacher on July 27. They gave me an example of a warm and open-minded crowd. In a week that held an anxiety-filled day, I also had a day filled with warmth and love–likely one of the most powerful days of my life.
I’m for Fargo, the people and the ideas. Are you?
Here are some of the talks so far released on YouTube from this year’s TEDxFargo.