Organizers highlight the voices of their historic neighborhood in second annual event

About once a week, Melissa Crum hears from people around the world who want to speak at TEDxKingLincolnBronzeville. Her response is always the same: Thanks, but no thanks.

Unlike the larger annual TED conference that features an array of national and international speakers, TEDx events are local, independently organized offshoots. TEDxKLB is all about putting the focus on the neighborhood it calls home: the historically black King-Lincoln District, also known by its original name, Bronzeville. Speakers must fit into one of three categories: 1) live or have lived in the neighborhood; 2) work or have worked in the neighborhood; 3) are doing work that is beneficial to the demographic of the neighborhood.

Now in its second year, TEDxKLB is the brainchild of Crum and Kaleem Musa, two people with an intimate knowledge of the neighborhood and its residents. For Crum, her interest in black history led her to King-Lincoln.

“No matter where I go, literally around the world, I'm asking, 'Where are the black people?'” she said with a laugh. “I'm really about the importance of having a space where people of color can congregate. Folks from the outside may see that as self-segregation, and I don't necessarily see anything wrong with that, because I think there can be healing that happens in that. There can be understanding that happens in those spaces of self-congregation and spaces where you don't feel like you're being observed or questioned or judged.”

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Musa began working in King-Lincoln in 2007 at the King Arts Complex, and he now calls the neighborhood home. The community’s rich arts history and the “everyone knows everyone” mentality drew him in.

“As a black person, I did not even know that any of this existed in Columbus because I grew up in a different neighborhood,” Musa said. “So, when I learned about the jazz history, when I learned about the artists, history of the arts, when I learned about the community programming, I was immediately fascinated with that history and that legacy.”

The inaugural TEDxKingLincolnBronzeville brought more than 250 attendees to East High School to hear talks from 12 people, including chef Carnell Willoughby of Willowbeez SoulVeg, children’s book author Carlotta Penn and Deena Chisolm, director of the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice at Nationwide Children's Hospital and a professor at Ohio State.

This year’s theme, “Level Up,” doesn’t just apply to the topics the speakers will address. It also relates to the work Crum and Musa did behind the scenes. They brought on more volunteers and partners and secured a larger venue in the Lincoln Theatre.

“This time, we were thinking about how to take something to the next level. How are individuals taking their resources or expertise to do something even better or more significant than before?” Crum said. “We were also modeling that by taking our goals to the next level, having more engagement with partners, expanding the folks who can support us. Although we went beyond our expectations last year, we knew that we needed more help, and so reaching out to the community and leveling up with their engagement.”

A new cast of 12 speakers will take the stage Friday, including Marshall Shorts, an entrepreneur and founder of Artfluential, a multi-disciplinary brand and design studio; Regina Alhassan, the founder of ResearchPRO, which uses data to help fundraising teams find donors; and Julialynne Walker, market manager assistant for the Ohio Farmers Market Network and manager for the Bronzeville Growers Market and the Bethany Bronzeville Community Garden.

In a neighborhood with a long and vibrant history — and current struggles that include gentrification and a lack of economic opportunities — TEDxKingLincolnBronzeville wants to give people a chance to share their stories rather than having their stories shared for them.

“This is as safe a space as we can make it, and we're here because we want to see how your authenticity manifests,” Crum said. “How does it show up? How can we create a space where it's an equal exchange as opposed to having someone talk at you, telling you who you're supposed to be or what you're supposed to be doing or what's going wrong with your neighborhood?”

“Even though people have acknowledged there's a lot going on, from my vantage point, it's even more than that,” Musa said. “It's that richness that's amazing to me and deserves to be supported and invested in.”