Rediscovering the Magic of Storytelling

Sunday, March 2, 2014

I want to be a cello. 

At Saturday's TEDxBirmingham conference 12-year-old cellist Malik Kofi wowed audiences as he flawlessly played compositions by music greats ranging from Mark Summer to Johann Sebastian Bach. 

Between performances, this child prodigy told a captivated audience in the Sirote Theatre of the Alys Stephens Center that he fell in love with the cello because of its wide range of tones and commanding presence. He saw the possibilities and the power of this instrument. Some people think that the cello is only for classical music. But Kofi and Summer know better. 

The message Kofi indirectly conveyed to me yesterday was to pick my instrument and use it in a surprising way to inspire others. 

I want to be a cello. I want a wide range of skills and a commanding presence. But my gift is not in music. My talents lie in the realm of the written word. But it turns out that storytelling just may be the key to changing the world. 

The theme for the conference was "Rediscover the Magic"with the goal of reigniting a fervor for helping our city. But in his or her own way, each speaker at Saturday's TEDxBirmingham event demonstrated the power of storytelling and helped me rediscover the magic of this timeless art form. 

I was proud to receive a scholarship to attend TEDxBrimingham
and to be recognized at the event as an Educator Fellow.

Graham Boettcher of the Birmingham Art Museum shared stories about the process of authenticating art, but through these anecdotes revealed that a work's true worth isn't in its monetary value but the experience of the beholder. 

Jen Barnett of Freshfully, the Birmingham local food market that closed in late January, ironically used the story of her business failure to encourage everyone in the audience to be brave. "We need a city full of brave people," she said. "Think of the one thing you're afraid to try and ask yourself, 'What could happen?'" Getting lots of laughs from the crowd, Barnett said if neither early death nor imprisonment are risks, go for it!

Glenny Brock's heartfelt yet humorous stories about her love for the Lyric Theatre have helped raise the $7 million dollars to restore this historic landmark and on Saturday she shared many of these stories with TEDxBirmingham attendees. Brock comes from a family of "show people," she said, people deeply entrenched in theater. And, as she said in her talk, "show people show people." They show people what they're passionate about and why so they'll be eager to support those passions too.  

As Larry Lawal, founder of the medical research crowdfunding platform Healthfundit, spoke I realized storytelling could even help lead to cures for diseases. It’s through storytelling, Lawal said, that people are motivated to help fund the research that could lead to lifesaving discoveries.  

Emmy-nomiated filmmaker Michele Forman left a job working with Spike Lee in New York to return to her hometown of Birmingham and co-found the media studies interdisciplinary minor at UAB. She returned because she wanted to help tell Birmingham’s story. And after listening to her talk I became inspired and determined to do the same.

But I can't tell these stories alone. Victoria Hollis reminded me of this. Just as all parts of the human body must work together to function well, change makers must work together too, she said in her talk. Hollis is the program manager at the Birmingham Education Foundation and is dedicated to transforming the city's public education system. And she urged the audience to share her concern. Whether or not your child is in Birmingham City Schools is irrelevant, she said. If you saw a child fall on the playground and no one rushed to his or her aid, most likely you'd go over to help. Likewise, you should feel compelled to help a child in a struggling school even if it means getting out of your comfort zone. 

"Our city won't reach its full potential if the ones who will inherit it don't reach theirs," she said. 

Just a little #TEDxBham selfie with the hubster.
Check out his recap of the event for

The TEDxBirmingham conference was organized into three themed sessions -- Mystify, Evoke, and Transform. As TEDxBirmingham co-organizer Matthew Hamilton explained near the end of the conference, ideas mystify, words evoke, but only action transforms. 

The folks behind this conference wanted us to all leave the Alys Stephens Center ready to do something to transform the city. In fact, we were all asked to fill out a slip of paper declaring what we will do over the next year to help people rediscover the magic of Birmingham. 

I committed to telling the stories of the women of Birmingham through a new See Jane Write Magazine series I'm calling the Birmingham Jane Project. Taking Hollis' advice I'm going to step out of my comfort zone by exploring new ways to tell these stories and exploring a variety of areas in the city to find them.

Striking a pose with fellow ASFA teacher PJ Godwin.

Throughout the day we attendees not only listened to 15 live talks but also viewed a few extraordinary presentations recorded at larger TED events. One was by Japanese world yo-yo champion BLACK, who mixes dance and sport to create performance art with, yes, a yo-yo. He shared his journey to mastering the yo-yo then dazzled the crowd with an unbelievable performance.

See for yourself…

Watching this the thought once again crossed my mind that a change maker is one who chooses his or her instrument and uses it in a surprising way to inspire others. 

My instrument is storytelling and I will use this instrument in innovative ways to evoke, just as Kofi does with his cello and just as BLACK does with something as simple as a yo-yo.   

What's your instrument?


  1. This is perfect! I am very grateful I got to share this experience with you!

    1. Same here! It was so nice to enjoy this with a member of my ASFA family.