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Reflections on TEDx Mile High

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Libbey Davis

What connects a cowgirl environmentalist, a social worker performance poet, and a Kenyan cadet at the United States Air Force Academy? If one only looks at their job descriptions—not much.

Hunter Lovins, president and founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions, works to educate business and government leaders on how to restore and enhance natural and human capital while also increasing prosperity. Bobby LeFebre is an award-winning spoken word artist and actor who also works with youth in Denver to help them find direction and support. In a few weeks, Obura Tongoi will graduate from the Air Force Academy, join the El Pomar Fellowship class of 2011 and continue to pursue his dream of transforming Africa in one generation through Africa Redefined, the organization he dreamed up and created.

But dig a little deeper and the connections are clear, starting with their ties to Colorado, their passion for life, their unwillingness to listen to the word ‘no,’ and their desire to improve people’s worlds.

On April 7, hundreds of eager listeners gathered in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver to listen to 22 Colorado leaders and participate in an evening of idea-sharing centered on Inspired Citizenship at TEDxMileHigh. After hearing from the three people detailed above and other politicians, educators, scientists, and community members, each person was challenged to leave the auditorium committed to making one inspired action in the next day, week, or month.

I sat in the audience taking notes, hoping to come away with clear instructions—a How-to Manual for Making a Difference and Changing the World. I understand that all too often people have the desire to help and no idea where to begin and I often come away from inspirational speeches with a renewed motivation, but no clear idea of how to channel that energy. This TEDx event harnessed that same energy, but also equipped me with a list of inspired actions that I could begin to implement in the near future.

Look people in the eye.

More importantly, look all people in the eye. Not just your boss or your spouse or your parents, but the person at the checkout line in the grocery store, the stranger in the street that you pass by each day on the way to work, and especially the man on the corner asking you to spare a little change. Libby Birky, co-founder and director of SAME Café, has created a restaurant model and a livelihood based on the principle that everyone deserves dignity. She says that making eye contact acknowledges the humanity in a person, a humanity that is inherent to everyone. At Birky’s pay-what-you-can restaurant, each customer receives a warm greeting and delicious food made from organic and locally-grown ingredients, regardless of their ability to pay. Birky is focused on “building community,” something she insists requires real connection, true dedication, and a willingness to get involved and get your hands dirty.

Teach one child to read.

Governor John Hickenlooper, both as mayor of Denver and in his current position, has experience tackling a wide range of difficult issues including homelessness, public education, and environmental conservation. He works at the upper levels of state government, trying to make change through legislation and multiple levels of bureaucracy. But when the conversation was brought back to the level of individual responsibility he was still at ease. When asked what the one inspired action that everyone at the event could make was, he had a quick response: volunteer at a school, tutor a student, and teach one third grader how to read.

Just ride.

Allen Lim still remembers receiving his first bicycle and the freedom and joy he gained with it. His love of cycling took him to high school and college competitions and ultimately to Lance Armstrong’s side as the director of sports science and training for Team RadioShack. At the pinnacle of the cycling world, able to make a career out of something he loved, there was no reason that he should be unhappy. That was until he realized that, although he was surrounded by bicycles and cyclists, he had not ridden a bike in months. As so often happens, in pursuit of a career, a distant goal, he had lost sight of the present and the motivations behind his life path. He didn’t want to talk about his innovative ideas to transform the sport of cycling, his path to the top, or what it’s like to work with Lance Armstrong. Instead, he wanted to discuss his journey back to find the passion from which he had strayed. His advice? Don’t delay pursuing your passions. Don’t put off the things you love for more practical or immediate pursuits. Just ride.

Just ride. Just ride. Just ride.

What did I learn from the event as a whole? The aggregate message from all of the inspired actions is that changing the world isn’t hard. It isn’t something that we should wait to do. It’s not only for the elite in each field, but the responsibility of everyone. Change can happen in an instant or gradually with a shift in language or attitude. The crucial part is that we all participate.