Five speakers and one musician took to the TEDx stage in the Wahlberg Recital Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 14 for an afternoon designed to discover new ideas and spark conversations within our community. The event was curated by Dr. Marnel Niles Goins, Professor and Graduate Coordinator in the Department of Communication, and organized by her students.

Communication Student Sarah Kneeland delivers opening remarks at TEDxFresnoState
Communication Student Sarah Kneeland delivers opening remarks at TEDxFresnoState

“I helped with TEDxSacramento for a few years and figured, why not do it on [the Fresno State] campus?” said Niles Goins.

Niles Goins said the entire event was planned and executed by her communication students including choosing the speakers, finding sponsors, creating an easy registration process and inviting audience members.

Marnel Niles Goins, Ph.D. TEDxFresnoState Curator Professor and Graduate Coordinator Department of Communication, Fresno State
Marnel Niles Goins, Ph.D., TEDxFresnoState Curator, Professor and Graduate Coordinator for the Department of Communication, Fresno State

“I think the students who planned it feel empowered because they were key in the decision making,” said Niles Goins. “I was so confident in their abilities that I was able to sit in the audience on several occasions and watch them work, including introducing speakers.”

The talk began with a video explaining that TEDx events are independently organized and licensed by TED. These local events happen all over the world and are based on the TED conference format.

The first speaker was former Pro BMXer Tony Hoffman of Clovis. Hoffman, who said he has been sober for nearly 12 years, discussed the stigma which many assign to drug addicts — even long after they have overcome their addiction. His first time smoking marijuana, he said, led to his eventual drug addiction, homelessness, prison, and finally redemption.

“The stigma says, drug addicts will never be good enough for employment,” said Hoffman. “I happen to make a doctor’s salary and started four businesses; but today, if I went down to Best Buy and I tried to get a job — guess what? I ain’t getting one because I’d have to check a box that says I’ve been arrested.”

After paroling prison in 2008, Hoffman went on place second in the BMX 2016 World Championships in Medellin Colombia in the Masters Pro class and coached Women’s BMX PRO Brooke Crain in the Rio Olympics. He started the Freewheel Project, a non-profit organization that mentors thousands of youth through BMX, skateboarding and after-school programs. He also speaks around the country about the dangers of prescription pills and heroin and works to break down the stigmas placed on former addicts.

Visalia native and business coach Kelsey Low spoke about transforming grief into growth. In reverse engineering her life when she was content, Low said she found growth began with moments of grief or emotional pain. Those moments of despair were the catalyst to the biggest growth moments of her life.

“It started with forgiveness, then went into vulnerability, and finished with courage,” said Low. “This ongoing cycle of forgiveness, vulnerability, and courage has been sprinkled throughout my entire life.”

Low said forgiveness is key to beginning the healing process. Learning to be still with pain in the moment and becoming vulnerability leads to self-compassion and then to personal growth.

Dr. Kizzy Lopez is a professor in the Social Work Degree Completion program at Fresno Pacific University. Her experience of being a black child in foster care has led her to research what happens to children whose lives are layered in trauma.

“The ways in which African Americans encounter discrimination and racism every day happens in a multitude of ways,” said Lopez. “Studies reveal that African Americans who experience chronic racism have negative health impacts.”

Black children who are raised in foster care, Lopez says, suffer multiple disadvantages and are far more likely to have negative outcomes in life.  The goal of her talk was to bring to light the issues and challenge the listener to acknowledge racism exist, get educated about injustices that happen in communities of color, inform others, check your own unconscious bias, and be engaged and be active in dismantling structural racism.

Jacq Malíq, guitarist, rapper, songwriter, and producer.
Jacq Malíq, guitarist, rapper, songwriter, and producer.

After a brief interlude, Fresno songwriter, guitarist and rapper Jacq Malíq performed on the TEDx stage. He used loops of his guitar playing recorded live as a instrumental base for his raps.

George Veater of Coarsegold told his grandfather’s story of building an agricultural empire beginning in the great depression to illustrate his “create, not compete” recipe for success. Veater said with a small paradigm shift, everyone has the ability to create, and enjoy, their own life without the worry of competing with others.

“Competition is good in that it makes us strive. But there are some negative aspects of competition,” said Veater. “For example; if you feel like you have to beat someone for you to win… then there’s a negative taste to that equation, isn’t there? If you feel you have to take something because of scarcity… then that is a zero-sum proposition.”

When one wins a competition, Veater said, the exhilaration is short-lived, and the need to compete again to get that feeling back is strong. However, if one is focused on creating and building rather than competing — overtaking and winning — that person will be more successful and live a happier life.

The final speaker, CeCe Olisa, said she wakes up every morning and tells herself “don’t wait on your weight to live the life you want.” She grew up with a love of performing arts, but throughout her life, she was rejected for parts because of her body.  

“In final audition after final audition, I would have casting directors say, ‘CeCe, gosh, we love your talent; but your weight,’” said Olisa. “Did I diet? Sure. I could get smaller, but I could never get skinny.”

She eventually quit trying to act and started posting her frustrations on her blog. Her Instagram and YouTube audience gained a following, and she began to focus on steps to rebuild her self-confidence. Rather than focusing on her weight, she focuses on healthy living — using consistency as a measure of success over clothing size. She says by changing her perspective on her perceived obstacle, she was able to change her life.

Along with the live speakers, two TED talk videos were played during the event including “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable” by Luvvie Ajayi and “My love letter to cosplay” by Adam Savage.

This was the second TEDx event to be held at Fresno State; the first was in 2013.