Tuesday night’s Ignite Baltimore, held as part of Baltimore Innovation Week 2015, brought eclectic stories to the stage, from how the founder of the Baltimore Love Project came to love the city himself to a call for scientific literacy to “dating” your own city.
The 17th local Ignite event, and the first by a mostly new group of organizers (that still included Mike Subelsky, who stepped back in August), was held at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Brown Center for a sellout crowd of more than 500.
Proceeds from ticket sales and a grant from the Warnock Foundation also funded the Ignition grant (worth around $2,500 this year, Subelsky said). This year’s grant went to Gather Baltimore. The volunteer-powered group picks up unsold produce and bread that would otherwise be wasted and distributes it to needy families. The grant will help Gather hire a part-time staffer and open up a community delivery center in East Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood.
Ignite’s talks are TED on steroids. Speakers get five minutes and presentation slides change every 15 seconds, whether they want them to or not.
Here are Tuesday’s 15 speakers and what they spoke about:
- Christine Osazuwa is probably better known by her pen name, Charmed and Dangerous. She spoke about how 200 dates with 200 men led her to fall in love with the city more. “Dating the city I loved was way more exciting than the boys I didn’t,” she said. “Yes, Baltimore isn’t Pleasantville, but it’s got heart and it’s got charm.”
- Greg Abel spoke about his grandmother Frieda Pertman, 98, who was Jewish in Nazi-occupied Poland. A seamstress working seasonally in Warsaw, when the Germans first attacked, she walked the 90-some miles back to her family in Wohyn. The family reunited in Kazakhstan in 1943 and in 1958, emigrated to America, where husband Hyman opened a tailor shop in Towson. “She speaks five languages and she knows how to adapt in many different environments because she had to,” Abel said. Pertman was in attendance and got a standing ovation.
- Adam Ruben is a Washington-based molecular biologist and comedian who took on the notion of scientific study always leading to a career in academia. Many more students, he said, pursue lengthening post-doctoral studies that don’t always lead to an assistant professorship. Rather than considering anyone who doesn’t get a tenure-track job a failure, he said, such students should consider all the possibilities open to them.
- Helen Ryan, a Washington-based social worker, advocated reproductive healthcare for homeless women. Nearly half of those sheltered are in families, and many of those are led by single moms. Many don’t know enough about contraception, resulting in more unplanned pregnancies. Between priorities and sexual power dynamics, more and more homeless families ultimately get tied down with pregnancies they didn’t plan. She said reproductive care would further empower women to change their lives.
- Christopher Llewellyn Reed, chair of the film and video department at Stevenson University and occasional WYPR commentator, traced innovations in film technology, from Thomas Edison’s first camera to talkies, Technicolor and tracking shots.
- Allison Pendell Jones, who works in affordable housing, spoke about people who she helped overcome lack of opportunities, including health crises and financial calamities. While many people, she said, take the opportunities offered through one’s class and education for granted, many people start with much less to work with. She used the examples of three people who she had helped, all of whom were in attendance.
- Michael Owen, a MICA alumnus who founded the Love Project, spoke about how his art elsewhere in the country brought him closer to Baltimore. “I started to realize the things in these cities I connected to were things that I loved about Baltimore,” he said.
- Aaron Henkin, host of WYPR’s “The Signal,” talked about his search for strangers. That search began with picking out random names in a phone book and evolved into an effort to pick a block and interview everyone on that block, from recovering addicts to former dealers to three unrelated Ukranian immigrants named Dmitri. He said what he’s found while documenting these blocks for the radio has led him to challenge the idea of “Smaltimore.” “The antidote to that is once a week, once a day, get into a conversation with a total stranger,” he said.
- Adashmore Creative founder Jennifer Dodson spoke about finding a “unicorn” in hiring. Many of her applicants, she lamented, couldn’t follow directions, lacked attention to detail, were unresponsive, not knowledgeable, needed training and asked for an unrealistic salary. “There’s no magical thing that tells you where you’re going to find a unicorn,” she said. Rather, she quipped, she’d settle for a UFO instead.
- Alphonso Mayo described himself as “just a guy that grew up around the corner.” He exhorted those in attendance to “rise up,” not just against a faction or an idea, though his slides did echo the imagery of Black Lives Matter and Baltimore’s protests and riot-related violence. He asked residents to reconnect as a community. “We come from the same city,” he said. “It’s almost as if we life in two different worlds.”
- Elizabeth Lagesse, a Johns Hopkins graduate student, spoke about the need to combat science denialism. While virtually all professionals in respective fields believe in the efficacy and need for vaccines and the reality of anthropogenic climate change, public opinion is much more split because the media creates a false balance, she said. However, she said people with misconceptions shouldn’t be antagonized. “It turns out it’s better to integrate new information into the framework people have in their lives,” she said. “Human brains don’t do statistics very well, it turns out.”
- Kara Redman spoke about the need for women to seek workplace mentors. She used her own story of how she felt passed over or disrespected early in career and lacked the tools to stand up for herself, speak her mind and negotiate for better salary. One mentor, she said, paid for her college education and today, she owns her own business.
- Stephanie Ranno advocated that workplaces better accommodate breastfeeding mothers with paid leave, pumping accommodations and support. Only 12 percent of employers offer paid maternal leave, but that’s a list that includes Silicon Valley giants like Google, Apple, Facebook and Netflix.
- Kristin McWharter of Hear Charm City spoke about inherent platform biases and how her rotoscoped interviews on the streets of Baltimore helped her discover her own.
- Adam McConnell of parkour gym Urban Evolution Baltimore talked about the media-fueled misconceptions and judgments in his field that often lead to parkour being criminalized. “Parkour builds communities that care about public spaces because that’s the only place where we can practice parkour,” he said.