TEDxCUNY, which is an independently organized TED event ran by CUNY students, held its fifth conference in the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on April 5 with both speakers and various workshops. This year’s theme was “What matters now!”
Mohammed Ashour spent his time on stage informing the audience why his company, Aspire Food Group, is making products and ingredients made from crickets. While pursuing the prestigious Holt prize aimed at fostering innovation in business, Ashour set out to tackle the issues of plastic pollution and decreasing potable water sources by farming insects in order to provide humans with a more sustainable source of protein. He also discussed the effects of the rich world’s resource-intensive diet and how it disproportionately harms the poorest members of society. He is confident that consumers will be able to move past the taboo of eating insects as has been done in Asia for much of the country’s history.
Alina Camejo is a Baruch College student and an advocate for sexual health and sex education. She volunteers as a health educator for Peer Health Exchange where she facilitates weekly workshops to a classroom of ninth graders. Camejo shared how her students were uncomfortable during the sex education lessons and felt uncomfortable just naming the body parts. She highlighted this as a concern, especially because there is only one semester of health education in the public school system and it doesn’t even mandate a specific health topic or area and due to the lack of funding, there isn’t enough information and resources set aside. Camejo spoke up on needing more resources and sex education for all five boroughs, especially the Bronx, since the Bronx has the highest pregnancy rates. These health classes encourage students to use protection and instead of promoting abstinence.
Written and photographed by May Khin and Julian Tineo
Lavar Thomas was the final speaker of the day. Thomas is the founder of Empower for Greatness, a program that helps aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs overcome fear and develop habits of success. Thomas served in the U.S. Peace Corps as a volunteer in Rwanda and described how his nonprofit organization, Leaders of the Free World, provides leadership development and international experiences to young black men.
In Rwanda, Thomas worked on building a library, with the goals of eliminating illiteracy, raising employment rates and providing better education to Rwandan citizens. During the speech, Thomas shared tales of his journey in the East African country but at the end, he emphasized that his original plan didn’t work out. Yet, Thomas said, he still didn’t give up and helped in other areas as needed, ensuring that his visit did not go to waste. With this speech, he emphasized the importance of “letting go and reconstructing our concept and approaches,” instead of fixating on one particular goal.
The first speaker, Hebh Jamal, is an advocate for education reform who organized a citywide student walkout to protest President Donald Trump’s travel ban in 2017. In part of her speech, Jamal highlighted the tense political situation in Palestine, saying, “The realities in Gaza would crash the people who are there. Injustice is present in all aspects of society.” Every obstacle she faced “made me a creative soul,” and she pointed out the importance of powerful resistance. She paid tribute to Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela as she emphasized the power of willful resistance, adding, “They imagined the society they live in different from the reality.” Jamal ended her speech by saying that whether it’s one person or more than one, change is change and has an impact.
Linda Martín Alcoff discussed the importance of considering the experiences of all people, particularly people of color, in American society. The Hunter College and CUNY Graduate School professor of philosophy claimed that the effects of whiteness were broad and must be recognized, acknowledged and mitigated in order to preserve the future of a positive society. In regard to whiteness in the United States, Alcoff claimed, “If to be American is to be white, people will try being white.” National identity, according to her, should not be determined by race. Alcoff’s ideas for ensuring inclusive identities were available for all people living in the country and resonated well with the audience.