Pastor, Chef and Robot Walk Into a Church

At TEDxHarlem, diverse speakers (and an android) revived the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance.

Harlem has long been known for its artists and literary figures who gave birth to the first Harlem Renaissance, in the 1920s. It was that creative legacy that inspired the organizers of the first-ever TEDxHarlem on Tuesday at Riverside Church.

TEDx events are independently produced spinoffs of the exclusive annual TED conferences. Created more than 30 years ago, TED — which stands for technology, education and design — brings together creative thinkers and innovators to share outside-the-box ideas. Events such as TEDxHarlem embody TED’s motto of “ideas worth sharing.”

One of the issues with bringing a TEDx to Harlem was that the brand didn’t register with some residents, said Marcus Glover, one of the event organizers. He said he began introducing the idea of TEDxHarlem to the neighborhood 18 months ago.

“What we sought to do was to use the Harlem Renaissance to suggest that ‘thought leadership’ was not something foreign or new to the Harlem community,” said Glover. “We were thought leaders before it was ever called this cool buzzword.

“First we went door to door to most of the people who were doing important work — churches, community-based organizations, grassroots organizations, foundations, schools. It was important to lay the groundwork for this type of event.” (Even with the outreach, there were still some concerns. One of the criticisms of the event was that the $100 ticket price — plus $16 in fees — was unaffordable for many Harlem residents. A venue change — from the Apollo Theater to Riverside Church — allowed organizers to reduce the price to $20.)

Glover hopes TEDxHarlem can be more than an annual event. “We want to be a galvanizing force for Harlem. We would like to cultivate idea people, visionaries, on a year-round basis and then give them the platform TEDxHarlem.”

Using the theme “Creating Waves,” TEDxHarlem fostered the notion that ideas can cause ripple effects that can spread to many places. It featured more than 20 innovators, performers and activists from a variety of fields — from environmental activist Majora Carter to chef Marcus Samuelsson, who gave a series of lectures and demonstrations that were meant to provoke thought and inspire action.

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