Speakers open emotional doors to their lives, want to 'pay it forward'

Portlanders, here’s your challenge: You can either sit back and watch the city change around you, or you can actively participate in making it, and the rest of the Pacific Northwest, a better place.

This wonderland, where technology, nature and people all come together, is what speakers tried to envision Saturday during the sixth annual TEDxPortland at the Keller Auditorium in front of a packed house of about 3,000 people.

“It takes about nine months to organize this thing,” said David Rae, executive producer and host of TEDxPortland. “The reason we are so passionate about it is because we firmly believe it is the most inspirational and educational day of the year.”

TEDx is an independently organized version of the TED Conference, where the world’s leading thinkers and doers share what they are most passionate about. This year’s Portland event combined 13 speakers and five performances from across many fields. There were scientists, activists, authors, musicians and athletes.

“We just try to throw everything at the audience,” Rae said. “You sit in your chair, buckle up and watch the magic happen.”

‘Anger can fuel love’

TEDXPORTLAND - Intisar Abioto, a photographer, is trying to connect the African-American community in PortlandFor Intisar Abioto, photography became a way to overcome a stuttering problem that has been with her since childhood. Through her lens she could communicate ideas even while her body rejected her own voice.

Abioto moved to Portland from the south in 2010 with her family, and her first question upon arriving was “where were the black people?”

She decided to bring together the African-American community in Portland and the rest of Oregon by forming The Black Portlanders, a blog where she shared photos of all the people she met as she explored her new home. Photography became a way to connect.

“In Portland I found a community that needed what I had to say,” Abioto said. “This place was founded to be a wonderland for some people, but not all of us.”

Her work is beginning to change that, allowing for a new community to feel more welcome than ever in the city they call home.

The most emotional moment of the day came when Timber Jim Serrill, former mascot for the Portland Timbers, took the stage. As the crowd donned specialized TEDx scarfs and stared at the Timbers’ 2015 MLS Championship trophy, Serrill spoke of his life’s hardships. He overcame alcoholism, two bouts of cancer and the passing of his 17-year-old daughter in a car crash.

TEDXPORTLAND - Timber Jim Serrill raises a special TEDx scarf with the packed house of 3000 at Keller Auditorium.“It was crushing grief and then anger set in, then rage,” Serrill said. “But forgiveness is an act of grace, and grace is healing.”

Serrill suggests that rather than push aside anger and bury it away, people should use it to create a positive change. “Anger can fuel love,” he said.

Another emotional moment came from former Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington when explaining his failure in the NFL.

“According to my story, when I worked harder things would become better for me,” Harrington said.

That had been his experience as a successful University of Oregon Duck. He was never a loser on the football field, creating this pursuit of perfection that was unsustainable. When he inevitably fell short, he said he felt embarrassed, ashamed, depressed and scared.

“You have to stop caring about others expectations,” Harrington said. “You have to focus on yourself.

Paying it forward

The talks ranged from self-improvement, noticing and acting on the issues plaguing the city and possibilities for improvement in the future. Maurice Conti, a futurist and innovator, spoke on what technology could provide. He believes many of our human capabilities will be augmented by robotics and artificial intelligence.

“We will amplify our cognitive abilities that are out of our reach as plain old, non-augmented humans,” Conti said.

TEDXPORTLAND - Maurice Conti discusses how humans, robots and AI will all work together to accomplish amazing tasks in the near futureFor him, the future will be a combination of humans, robots and AI all working together to create things we never could have dreamed of. And this technology isn’t that far off. Already companies are working to create systems that are intuitive and fit this vision.

The rest of the speakers talked about the hungry, shedding a sense of entitlement and stressing a refocus on curiosity and science. Nadya Okamoto, a Portland high school senior at Catlin Gabel and founder of Camions of Care, tried to break the taboo surrounding menstruation while Israel Bayer, executive director of Street Roots, challenged that “homelessness is not normal.”

Performances were very popular throughout the day. The Rose City Trombones, Radiation City and Tyler Neist & Bridgetown Orchestra all performed well. The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus took the record for the most people on stage at TEDxPortland, with 98, while the youngest person, 11-year-old Bobbi MacKenzie, belted out songs in the same manner that has made her so popular on Broadway.

Attendees received a specialized TEDx backpack filled with items from sponsors which they were encouraged to share with others. “There is an underlying tone of paying it forward,” Rae said.

That is the main goal of TEDxPortland, to inspire the audience to take what they have heard and apply it in their own lives. To help facilitate this, every audience member was also given a book that included an A-to-Z guide of how to achieve wonderland.

“Our goal in planning this year was to inspire for a longer period,” Rae said. “To actually get into the community and have a checklist to give back to Portland.”

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