By Monica Brigham/reporter
Silence filled the theater as Rebekah Charleston told her captivating story of surviving human trafficking. Both hands clasped firmly around the microphone as she talked to the sold-out NFAB theater about hardship, transformation, tragedy and triumph for its first TEDxTCCD event.
“Love is the greatest force in the world,” said Charleston, TEDxTCCD speaker and executive director of Valiant Hearts, a nonprofit that helps sex-trafficked victims. “It has brought down empires, built new ones. It’s fatal, but it also gives life. Without it, the world would have ended a long time ago.”
TCC hosted an independent TED-inspired event titled TEDxTCCD March 5. TEDx events focus on a local community approach and community voices while maintaining the spirit of traditional TED Talks.
Hosted on NE Campus, the event sold out almost immediately resulting in live broadcasts screened on all TCC campuses.
Featuring 10 speakers and performers from within the community, each speaker had 18 minutes or less for skillfully prepared talks or performances.
“We pursued them because of the stories they had to tell and because they were hometown people,” said Connie Stein, NE psychology instructor and TEDx lead organizer. “These are extraordinary people who do and have had the ability to change the world.”
Artist and performer Gabino Martinez opened the show with a high-intensity speed painting performance. Adorned with a cowboy hat and boots, Martinez skillfully rocked the blank canvas back and forth, spinning along to the music as the audience grew in anticipation of the final result. After eight minutes of quick craftsmanship, Martinez spun the canvas to reveal an astronaut rocking out with his guitar in space.
NE humanities dean Linda Quinn and NE dance associate professor Jenna Chang, co-presented “Just Keep Moving,” which focused on the importance of moving forward through life no matter the obstacles faced.
“For just a moment, I see a thread of hope for all of us,” Quinn said. “Just keep moving forward.”
While Quinn sat and talked, Chang danced alongside her. Creating a fusion of poetry and dance through words and movement, the performance left a visual reminder.
Innovative change within the autism community served as a catalyst for “Tapping the Invisible Workforce,” which was presented by NE speech instructor Amber Meyers. Meyers, whose children were diagnosed with autism, aims to inspire action in reaching the invisible workforce within the autism community.
Meyers encouraged the audience to change their vocabulary when speaking about people on the spectrum. Instead of referring to those on the spectrum as having Autism Spectrum Disorder, remove the word “disorder” and focus on their differences.
“‘Disorder’ is an anomaly and a negative life prognosis,” Meyers said. “If we are going to call this autism spectrum disordered, then I have to look at my students as disordered. And my children as disordered.”
The talk ended with a call to action for the audience to shift their perspective on and to become activists for the untapped and invisible workforce in the autism community. TED-style talks seek to take the audience on a journey through personal talks and Meyers’ “Tapping the Invisible Workforce” was presented in a relatable, concise speech to which each audience member could relate.
Charleston closed out the first round of speakers with her speech “Tragedy to Triumph,” which described her journey through the world of human trafficking to now serving as an executive director of a non-profit organization that helps survivors.
A mom, activist and survivor, Charleston described how the traumatic events of being raped at 14 and the death of her brother led to her running away at 17 and entering a human trafficking ring. She said traffickers are skilled at making their victims feel worthless, but in the end, it is up to the victim to reach deep within themselves and find a way out.
“Empathy and human connection are mandatory for healing to take place,” Charleston said. “Will you step into this fight and stand in this gap with me?”