Conference Calls for Doses of Reality, Discussion, Listening 

click to enlarge Domenick Casuccio asks TEDxGraceStreet attendees to rethink how people can contribute time to nonprofits. - ASH DANIEL
  • Ash Daniel
  • Domenick Casuccio asks TEDxGraceStreet attendees to rethink how people can contribute time to nonprofits.

The last of the speakers at the first TEDxGraceStreet conference echoed a common theme: Richmond’s attitude toward its history and future is evolving.

“If we’re really willing to look at our past — warts and all — we can glean for ourselves the possibilities of greatness in ourselves, both as individuals, as communities and as cities,” said Christy Coleman, president of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar. “I am here to tell you this city is getting healthier every day.”

About 150 people attended Richmond’s second independently organized TED conference within a year. It falls under the umbrella of TED Talks, a highly branded series that stands for technology, entertainment and design. Friday’s event featured 12 speakers from a wide range of fields putting forth blunt ideas about building community.

Co-organizer Wren Lanier says the conference, held at the Richmond Times-Dispatch building, adopted the Grace Street name because of how the street has changed since she moved to Richmond in 1998.

“I’ve grown up, and Grace Street has grown up too,” Lanier says, adding that while much of the street has seen resurgence, some parts are “crumbling to pieces before our eyes.”

Nonprofit leaders told the group that people looking to help in Richmond should spend more time listening to the community they’re trying to serve. Others stressed the need to understand that population trends show the city is growing more segregated.

Speakers urged the audience to ask tough questions. Teacher Bryce Lyle asked why more parents in his area weren’t sending their children to their neighborhood school, Westover Hills. The result has been that “the kids in my neighborhood don’t grow up together,” he said, “they just grow up at the same time.”

Lyle formed a group dedicated to challenging the stigma that many parents have attached to the school. “We found out the way to get excited about your local school is [to] meet people there,” he said.

Co-organizer John Sarvay said he put the conference together because he wanted Richmond to be included among the cities taking part in the California-based conference brand’s City 2.0 initiative. Many in Richmond talk about tables and who is or isn’t invited to sit around them, he said at the conference’s conclusion: “Today is an invitation to you to start building more tables.”

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