Intellectual Hunger

Local activists and civic-minded individuals have gathered a group of speakers who want to color your world through art, engage your minds on the environment, define dignity, teach you technology and rationalize racism. Tired of hearing about the lack of civic pride in our community and eager to share innovative concepts that are on the brink of discovery, this group set out to debunk the theory that El Paso is a heterogeneous community in presenting 2015 TEDx El Paso.

TEDx El Paso is a non-profit organization with an independent series of small talks scheduled for May 30 at the El Paso Community Foundation. The talks are based off the national TED brand, which engages speakers to share information ranging from art and culture to science and technology, as well as every day life issues. TED has hosted speakers as famous as Bill Gates, as well as Joe Smith who teaches you how to reduce your paper consumption by using only one paper towel to dry your hands.

A few of the scheduled speakers on the list for the May talks include UTEP’s Dr. Stacey Sowards discussing  communication—international conservation effort,” Tracey Jerome; the new director at the Museums of Cultural Affairs Department will speak on creativity and economic development; while Dr. Arvind Singhal, a UTEP professor, will be talking about the diffusion of innovations the positive deviance approach and organizing for social change.  (For a complete listing of the speakers you can go to their Facebook page:  TEDx El Paso.)

Charles Clements
Charles Clements

Chris Cummings, who works for CIC Limited, a local commercial real estate company is the sole-licensee of the TEDx El Paso independent talks.  He is one of the organizers of the event and said it collaborated with The El Paso Foundation and numerous volunteers to effectively organize the 2015 series.  There will be more than 12 speakers determined to challenge the worldwide perception of life in the Borderplex, but most importantly, our own preconceived notions at the local level.

The 100 audience members will be hearing not just from local participants, but there will be a few keynote speakers scheduled during the programming including Dr. Charlie Clements. Clements is the famed physician, human rights activist and the executive director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard. “I believe he’s an amazing human rights advocate and activist. TED talks don’t have a keynote speaker, but he’s ours…he’s coming from Harvard to speak here, so that’s pretty cool,” said Cummings.  Clements wrote the book, Witness to War t he basis for the 1985 Academy Award-winning short documentary, for which Clements narrated.

Cummings hopes the panel this year will build upon the speakers from TEDx 2013.  “One of the speakers was a farm rights worker advocate, Carlos Marentes. His talk was about human rights and about being a ‘La Raza’ activist. That was great and an interesting perspective to have.  But we have to be careful with that and religion. We can talk about spirituality like Dr. Patel talked about similar to Deepak Chopra inspired concepts. Dr. Patel is a cardiologist but he’s talking about changing your ideas about health.”

Monica Lozano
Monica Lozano

The 2013 panels also included international photographer Monica Lozano who spoke about the misconceptions of life on the other side of the border, and her desire to show through photography there is beauty in darkness in Cuidad Juarez. Several other speakers were on hand, from Rosa Guerrero, Jim Ward and Dr. Richard Pineda.

Pineda, a professor at UTEP, spoke on identity: El Paso’s own identity and how others identify El Paso.

There is an intellectual hunger for ideas in El Paso. TEDx gives people a platform to express and empower others. It encourages you to engage in conversation after the talks and it’s so interesting to see what people talk about.” 

Pineda explained that those not familiar with the TED series should go to the website ( and look up any topic they’d like to learn more about.

Cummings received more than 50 applications over the last two months through their website. Eight curators helped to narrow the field of speakers. “We actually do have a lot of applicants coming in focused on human rights situations which I think is very interesting and reflective of what’s going on, especially with all the shootings and questioning of civil rights in this country right now, so it’s naturally trending that way right now,” said Cummings. “We have to respect how it trends.  We are not suppose to have a theme, but if [the] theme ends up being related to human rights somehow, even loosely, we are not going to stop that from happening. It’s reflective of the times. “

Once the speakers are chosen a team of volunteers, under the direction of volunteer Tyler Savage, groom them to the TED format. Cummings said the speakers have a time limit of up to 16 minutes to talk. “There is a formula to TED talks. Part of it is like an educational process. We don’t want to over formulate them and take their natural voice away, but there is a process.”

As TEDx El Paso is still perceived by some as a grassroots effort, its sustaining power in other parts of the world is substantial. “People are sort of enamored by it, there is a cult—a cult of TED.  Actually there is a New York Times article that states there is a church of TED. So we go from this range where people in El Paso have never heard of it and you have to explain it to them and then you have those individuals that are complete fanatics—so that when they hear that this is going on in El Paso, they are amazed, which is nice.  I think it’s great that El Paso can be on a global stage,” said Cummings.

Eric Pearson, president and CEO of the El Paso Community Foundation said the foundation sponsored TEDx El Paso 2013 and are honored to be a part of the 2015 series, “TEDx is a brand we like to be associated with and to be in a position of bringing people together and sharing ideas and showcase the brightest people in the community.” Pearson said the foundation provided $13,000 in funds in 2013, enabling the talks to come to fruition and believes the budget for 2015 will parallel that, “How can we make a difference? That’s important, the idea of ideas worth showing leave an open ended discussion to bridge the world.”

Jim Ward
Jim Ward

TED national has rules that limit the audience to 100 individuals and if the individual holding the license wants a larger audience, he/she must attend a national convention.  “In order for the venue to grow I have to go to a national sponsored conference. Last year it was in Rio de Janeiro. These conventions can cost anywhere between $7,500 to $15,000 dollars.” In lieu of a larger local audience Pearson and Cummings both suggest locals watch the live streaming, with hosting the local forum as well. Pearson expects the videos to be loaded and available for viewing on the national TED website by June. The TEDx El Paso 2013 speakers received more than 115,000 views since they were posted online last year.

If you were not one of the 100 audience members chosen for the day of the talks, you can look for live streaming directions at The 2013 speakers can be viewed on the Ted website and also through YouTube. [themify_icon icon=”fa-circle” icon_color=”#ec008b” ]