Dare to Know. Tedx San Francisco

The world is a very messy, confusing place right now. So in the spirit of finding peace and inspiration, I thought I’d share my experience after attending the incredible TEDx San Francisco.

It should be noted that every person’s experience is different. After spending nearly 20 years in the business, I quit my television news career and began one of the most revealing and scariest journeys of my life.

But I had to work on one thing first– rebuilding my self-confidence. While I worked hard compiling an impressive news resume and Rolodex (analog and digital) of contacts, I was completely starting over and had no idea what I wanted to do! Not only that, I left the business with a sorely bruised ego. I spent the first three months relaxing, traveling (Havana, Cuba), sleeping, and re-energizing.  The next three were spent on giving back and volunteering. I volunteer for the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture or CUESA for short. I also graduated from a rigorous, six-week Organizing for Action fellowship that has changed my outlook on life. I’m now the Director of Coalitions and Partnerships for OFA SF! Of course having mentors, a close circle of friends and family, and a therapist who can help me see through all the mess have been essential.

This last month or so has me back in busy bee mode. I am going out more, talking to more people, and just… connecting.

This is where TEDx San Francisco came in. The big event, which takes so much time and an army of people to plan, is intended to inspire, inform, and share personal stories of struggle, success, and hope. It was broken into four categories: Precision, Currencies, Empathy, and Intelligence. For someone looking to make a big career or life change, I figured this was a good place to start.

The popular event easily sold out but I was one of the lucky ones to grab a seat at the impressive Herbst Theater. It’s a modern space that also pays homage to San Francisco history.

I spent the entire day here so I can safely say I stayed for the whole experience that included laughs, tears, and inspiration. There were nearly 30 speakers at this event so rather than go through each one, I am detailing the Top 5 speakers who simply blew me away.

1. Gabe Zichermann: CEO/Co-Founder of Onward

In our massively connected world, technology has always been a part of addiction and Zichermann knows all about it. He says from birth, we are wired in our brains to be addicts in order for us to stay alive. The Toronto native saw addiction in everyday life, from the massively popular Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Double Down sandwich (I’ve never tried it but it looks damn delicious) to the late politician Rob Ford’s crack adventures (there are plenty of videos and news about his downward spiral that eventually cost him his life). But addiction does not have to be a death sentence and with the assistance of good mental health programs, we can clear our minds and live our best lives. Zichermann goes into detail about ways to overcome your addictions using the Onward Method which seeks to spread low-cost, mental health care to balance your online obsessions with your offline life.

2. Mar Cabra: Head of Data and Research for the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists

No matter what I end up doing in my career, responsible journalism will always have a big place in my heart. What I didn’t know after spending years in the newsroom is that those piles of papers and documents that reporters have stacked on their desks can be pure gold. Mar Cabra is looking to archive that gold especially with the disappearance of newspapers and popularity of digitalization around the globe. This impressive journalist from Spain led a team of reporters to expose a network of corruption known as the Panama Papers. The investigation could not have been possible without the painstaking task of having to go through 11.5 million financial and legal records. Cabra says we have to reframe the way we look at sharing by creating a searchable database that we can have access to, forever. Kudos to you Mar!

3. Elaine Fong: Art Director for Blue Bottle Coffee

All right. Get that tissue box ready. You may also want to call your mom after seeing this talk. While I have my own opinions about Blue Bottle (why did you have to sell to Nestle BB, why?), Elaine Fong had the most beautifully tragic story to share. While she found great success in her career in design, she never thought she would have to take on such a personal challenge… helping her mother end her own life. Fong’s mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer and even though she was in remission for 12 years, the disease came back and this time it was terminal. But rather than become a vegetable with a tumor behind her ear, her mother wanted to leave this world knowing who she was. Death with dignity. After a long and painful discussion, Fong says her mother died peacefully by drinking a lethal medical cocktail on her own terms. No matter where you stand on the issue, Fong left us with this question to ponder: If you could design your own death, what would your experience be like?

4. Fran Guijarro: Creative Director/Filmmaker, and Moses: Witness/Storyteller/Musician

It is absolutely true that San Francisco has a homelessness crisis on its hands. After organizing two recent events on the issue, I am wholeheartedly trying to be more knowledgeable about the problem. Filmmaker Fran Guijarro also wants the public to have a better understanding of what and more importantly, who are affected by homelessness. Guijarro spent over 10 years and captured more than 600 hours of footage to create “Moses“, a film that tracked the life of one man who lived on the streets of San Francisco after creating music with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. The movie is now in post-production and still needs help getting distributed! After the talk, Moses went on-stage and performed “Peek A Boo”, a song written 40 years ago that tells people that while they may not see the homeless, the homeless see you.

5. Catherine Hoke: Founder/CEO of Defy Adventures

Now this woman was not only well-dressed (I loved the plaid dress that she sewed herself, the hair, the shirt, everything), she knows how to hustle and she wants you to transform your hustle. Catherine Hoke spends much of her time teaching formerly incarcerated men and women how to re-enter society and tap into their entrepreneurial spirit. Hoke admitted she had troubles of her own with the law and that too often, people don’t judge you by what you’re trying to accomplish now, but by what you did in the past. Her main question… What if you were only known for what you did?

So that’s it! What did you think? Of course, there were so many other inspiring talks from this day. You can see all the videos here. Let me know by commenting on this post, on Facebook, Twitter, and all the other social media connections. Ciao for now!


Charlottesville: Just the beginning. What do Americans do now?

 Photo by jcarillet/iStock / Getty Images Photo by jcarillet/iStock / Getty Images

UPDATE October 13, 2017: 3 Alt-Right Leaders Found Guilty in Charlottesville Riots


For the last few weeks, I have been trying to wrap my head around the events and controversy surrounding the deadly attack in Charlottesville, Virginia. I went out looking for answers and found myself attending a Commonwealth Club Roundtable discussion in San Francisco. This is what I learned.

First, the important backstory. On August 11, 2017, a group of white nationalists held a march and rally to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. They were met by a large number of counter-protesters and in the next morning, at this normally liberal-leaning, white college town, a man drove into that group of people, killing a woman and injuring dozens of others. The event and aftermath became what’s being called a “self-inflicted political injury” to President Trump, and reaction nationwide has been dramatic on both sides of the aisle.

 Dan Borenstein (far right), Columnist and Editorial Writer, East Bay Times/Bay City News Group with Martin G. Reynolds (second to right), Co-executive Director, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, followed by Dr. James Taylor, University of San Francisco Political Science Professor, and John Zipperer, Vice President of Media & Editorial, Commonwealth Club  Dan Borenstein (far right), Columnist and Editorial Writer, East Bay Times/Bay City News Group with Martin G. Reynolds (second to right), Co-executive Director, Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, followed by Dr. James Taylor, University of San Francisco Political Science Professor, and John Zipperer, Vice President of Media & Editorial, Commonwealth Club

“We are in a historically significant moment,” said Dr. James Taylor, Director of African American Studies and Professor of Political Science, University of San Francisco.  “There are things young people are experiencing on the streets now that MLK and his generation could not deal with and never had to deal with that require new narratives to address these issues,” according to Taylor.

“The selection of Charlottesville was intentional because it’s a smaller college town and there was an expectation that other people they would run into would be other, white liberals,” said Martin G. Reynolds, Co-executive Director of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education and Director of Reveal Investigative Fellowships, The Center for Investigative Reporting. White nationalists didn’t go to other cities like Dallas and New Orleans where other Confederate monuments were taken down.

“Had they gone (to those cities), the reality is they probably would have faced more African Americans in that protest. They were seeking to deracialize the conflict and make it seem this is about patriotism, not racism,” Reynolds said.

Now it’s polo shirts and chinos

 University of San Francisco Political Science Professor Dr. James Taylor talks about the history of the white nationalist movement.  University of San Francisco Political Science Professor Dr. James Taylor talks about the history of the white nationalist movement.

“Clearly we’re seeing they’ve become much more sophisticated. The days of the robes are gone for the most part,” said Dan Borenstein, Columnist and Editorial Writer for the East Bay Times/Bay Area News Group. “We’ve seen it in Berkeley and now San Francisco. The question is how do you react to it? How do most people react to this abhorrent message?”, Borenstein asked.

“What (the white nationalists) got was what  they wanted. They got media attention. They got engagement. They got conflict which raises a much bigger question, how do you react to that?”, he said. The answer is “Don’t engage. What they want more than anything else is to have an engagement that generates publicity. They control the message and that’s the best recruiting tool they could hope for. I think falling into that trap would be horrible and what I fear will happen this weekend in SF,” said Borenstein. As of this writing, there are several counter-demonstrations planned in light of what’s being billed as an event to promote free speech by the group “Patriot Prayer” at Alamo Square in San Francisco.  More on the founder here. You can also find a list of rallies, counter-demonstrations, and alternatives to protesting here!

“The key is to keep (these events) peaceful. To me, if you engage it and it becomes a violent protest, it plays right into the Trump (ideology),” Borenstein said.

Life After Hate

Others are not quite so sure about what to do, especially those whose job it is to present the story to the public in an unbiased manner.

“Looking at it from the perspective of a journalist, as I watch (President Trump) say what he said about how racism is bad and putting it in very simple terms, the actions of this administration have been counter to that,” Reynolds points out. Reynolds talked about one of the guests on Al Letson’s Peabody award-winning podcast and radio program called Reveal. On it, one of the co-founders of the organization known as “Life After Hate”, Christian Picciolini, shared his story and how life as a skinhead that started when he was just 16 years old ultimately changed him forever after one violent confrontation with a young African American man in Chicago.

“While kicking him and beating him, (the man) looked up into (Christian’s) eyes and had a connection for that one moment. He realized he needed to get out of that,” Reynolds said.

“You rarely change someone’s mind when you punch em’ in the face so this notion we have to look at racists sort of angrily is problematic,” Reynolds explained.

Reynolds said “Life After Hate” was one of the groups awarded a $400,000 Homeland Security grant to continue their work before President Obama left office. “Lo and behold, when Trump went into office, that grant was rescinded,” Reynolds said. Additionally, “Out of all the groups who applied and had their grants rescinded, they were the only organization that focused on white extremism,” Reynolds said. “When (President Trump) goes from these speeches, from teleprompter to real Trump and back again, the reality is journalists have to call that because the actions of the administration are running counter to the very claims that he is making.”

“After listening to Trump’s description of white nationalists/nazis and you quickly realize the difficulty of getting out (of it) is like a gang, “according to Borenstein. “Once in, it’s almost impossible to get out. The last thing we want to do is put up physical barriers or walls that drive them deeper into this,” Borenstein said.

The Power of Presence

So how should people in the Bay Area react?

“(Through) the numbers, the demonstrations, the outpouring (of support),” said Taylor. “What we’ve seen Donald Trump do very forcefully and effectively is unify and democratize elements of this society that had not been mobilized for a long time. Many women responded and have stayed engaged since January that had not been engaged in the political process before,” according to Taylor.

He pointed out the mass show of solidarity in Boston shortly after the Charlottesville attack. “Just showing up as 20,000 silent observers in Boston who didn’t know exactly how to deal with this issue before us. We are here to say this is wrong and that had a powerful effect,” Taylor said.

To understand the Future, look at the Past

“Racial polarization is deeply ingrained in American politics in terms of our party system alone,” Taylor said. “Nothing else explains American (political) parties better than race. Not gender, not sexuality, not income, not region, not wealth. They’ve changed their names over the years, but both are shaped by ‘where is the Negro’, ‘where is the working class white?'”, said Taylor.

He went on to say that the National Football League made a choice by bringing back country singer and songwriter Hank Williams on Monday night football. “We are ignoring the African Americans who are concerned about what (people like) Colin Kaepernick are trying to articulate,” explained Taylor. “Through the specific stanzas in the National Anthem, (Kaepernick) exposed the racism and black defeat in this pledge. What Williams represents is an appeal to Nascar (fans) and the working class element of whites that our political system has had a hard time bringing together,” Taylor said.

“To think that we’re going to get some new religion suddenly, to change this after 150 years where these people identify themselves based on the hate of blacks specifically… polls show Trump support has a strong anti-black effect.”

 Moderator John Zipperer leads the discussion on Charlottesville, VA at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco Moderator John Zipperer leads the discussion on Charlottesville, VA at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco

The Notion of Terror

Reynolds said another problem is the lack and unwillingness from law enforcement and public officials to call what happened in Charlottesville an act of domestic terrorism, especially when you combine this with the increase in hate crimes since President Trump took office.

“The authorities are reticent to call it (domestic terrorism),” Reynolds said. “So then, as journalists, we’re often reticent to call this domestic terrorism. That needs to change. We need to take a hard look at what terrorism (is),” Reynolds said.

“I don’t know that people of color can tell white folks what to do to stop being racist. And frankly, it’s not our job,” Reynolds explained. “To me, the real racism is the systemic and institutional racism that we need to address. It’s what we’re taught. (We need to) train journalists to recognize their own bias. It’s going to take time.”

 President Trump announces an increase in U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. August 21, 2017  President Trump announces an increase in U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan. August 21, 2017

Up in the Air

Another hot topic is talking about what to do to next with those controversial Confederate statues.

“The Confederate monuments had very little to do with the 1860s and the Civil War and had more to do with the assertion of Jim Crow terror,” Taylor explained. “These monuments served as a warning to African Americans in the 1920s in and outside the South that a certain sentiment is supported here. The beauty of today is people are starting to bring up these ghosts from the past,” according to Taylor.

“Instead of dismantling them, put a statue of Frederick Douglass in place wherever there’s a Confederate monument like Jackie Robinson at baseball stadiums to contextualize history so we can learn more,” Taylor said.

Special thanks to Riki Rafner and John Zipperer with the Commonwealth Club for giving me access to attend the event and provide this coverage.

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 OFA SF members served as Peace Ambassadors at this march involving more than 50,000 attendees in January 2018. 

Bay Area Women’s March January 2018; Responsible for training and member participation with the Women’s Action Network