Culture | January 26th, 2023
TEDxFAMU: A Student-Led Success
By: Jaden Bowen and Jordan Forbes
On Jan. 22, Florida A&M University made campus history.
Putting on their own independently organized TED event for the first time, FAMU successfully went “Beyond Great Heights.”
Attendees gathered in Lee Hall Auditorium and participated in the influential event hosted by a dedicated student-led planning committee and passionate TEDxFAMU guest speakers.
Nyla Sams, a third-year business administration student, was the mastermind behind TEDxFAMU and worked alongside several other students, including her co-producer, Jaylin Alleyne. The committee worked efficiently for months, determined to create what they hoped would be a continuing tradition on FAMU’s campus.
According to the @TEDxFAMU22 Instagram bio, this event’s purpose was to emphasize the importance of “uplifting the ideas of diverse and talented students at Florida A&M University, one talk at a time.”
The speakers included eight students, faculty, and alumni: Keith Clinkscales, Dr. Eurydice Stanley, Vodrick Anderson, Malu Brooks, Robert Tucker Ⅱ, Jalynn McDuffy, Kayla Braggs and Charles Gee. Each of them carefully crafted their topics and speeches to present in front of the audience.
Keith Clinkscales — “Influence: The True Power of the Culture”
Clinkscales, a FAMU alumnus who received his degree in accounting and finance, has achieved many respectable positions since his time at the university, but he will always be a rattler.
With many accomplishments and notable collaborations to his name, including working alongside Spike Lee, Clinkscales returned to FAMU’s campus to enlighten the student body on the many possibilities the world offers after graduation.
His topic, “Influence: The True Power of the Culture,” discussed his journey as a post-FAMU graduate turned ESPN creative, television producer, magazine editor, and school board foundation member.
Having spent years developing a series of content in different areas of the entertainment industry, Clinkscales was thankful for the connections that he made at FAMU.
“I got to feel what it was like to be a part of something so big and so cool,” Clinkscales said. “It’s [about] understanding the need and accepting the challenge.”
Dr. Eurydice Stanley — “Legacy Minded: How Valuing Mentorship Transformed My Life”
Next up was the first alumna of the night, Dr. Stanley. Six-book award-winning author, publishing over 100 articles, international speaker, and military retiree, Dr. Stanley was on a mission to inspire 1 million people to find a mentor.
Her inspiration came from noticing how much having a mentor truly added to her life and guided her. Wanting students to understand the importance of having a figure to look up to and support brought Dr. Stanley to FAMU’s stage.
“There are people who will help you if only you reach out,” Dr. Stanley said. “It is important and is going to make a difference in your life.”
Emphasizing willingness and that “mentors matter,” she seeks to inform anyone who will listen about the benefits of a mentor and how they improve the livelihoods of their mentee.
Voderick Anderson — “Toward a Mathematical Perfection in Black America”
Presently a third-year transfer student studying applied physics, Anderson works continuously to elevate skills as an origin and academic. Transferring from California after a brief career as a junior college athlete, he hopes to matriculate to higher education as a professor upon graduation.
With these goals in mind, Anderson’s speech was titled “Toward a Mathematical Perfection in Black America,” emphasizing the importance of math and its involvement in everyday living. Anderson delved into the significance of establishing a solid foundation in mathematics from youth.
“It’s easier to build strong children than it is to repair a broken man,” Anderson said.
Anderson is pursuing mathematical perfection with a firm awareness of the true nature of mathematics and the knowledge that it is a very real aspect of life.
Trenton “Malu” Brooks — “Anthropology: Questions That Show You Care”
Anthropologist and historian, FAMU alumnus Malu Brooks, is questioning history and what it means to redeem the past. Between his constant questioning leading to consistent learning, Brooks has been able to travel to 14 different states, learning more and more each time he explores somewhere new.
Presenting his TED talk around his journey to Sierra Leon, Africa, and his six-week study of the students at Fourah Bay College, Brooks raised the question, “how are youth in Sierra Leone able to, or not, leverage resources, like technology, to enhance opportunities for themselves, communities and nation?”
With this inquiry in mind, Brooks gathered his information and learned that those students are the foundation generation for the continent’s future.
“The power of questions is that they provide a pathway to greater understanding so that you can continue to ask questions,” Brooks said. “And be prepared to do something with the responses that we actually get.”
Because Brooks cares, he can reach “beyond great heights” and find the solution he seeks because of his persistent need to ask insightful questions and seek answers.
Robert Tucker Ⅱ — “Growth is Inevitable When Failure is Mandatory”
FAMU’s very own jazz band was brought out to play a compilation of a few songs to provide a break between speakers. Those who performed were Andrew and Andre Conner, Noel Stewart and Noah Rivers. Easing the crowd back into the rest of the speeches was an excellent display of the talents here at FAMU.
After a brief intermission between the first and second half of the speakers, Tucker, a fourth-year broadcast journalism student, took to the stage, positively representing himself and the university.
Tucker did not take the weight of the theme lightly. In the spirit of making a mark on the campus he is leaving behind, Tucker’s central message, “Growth is Inevitable When Failure is Mandatory,” prioritizes inspiring those coming after him to take the opportunity to progress just as he did with his time at FAMU, the school he believes “inspired him to be the best version of himself.”
“I’m hoping to inspire people to GROW,” Tucker said. “GROW is an acronym I came up with: G stands for Gathering Understanding; R means Realizing Your Authenticity; O stands for Organizing Your Own Life; and W stands for Wisdom, which develops into Knowledge, which creates power.”
“When presented the correct way, power leads to respect.”
Jalynn McDuffey — “Da Art of Storytelling”
Described as an artist, scholar, and activist, McDuffey, a South Miami native, used her experiences and surroundings to literally and figuratively draw inspiration. Her TEDx speech, “Da Art of Storytelling,” discussed how the lack of Black art in her hometown growing up led her to create the portraits of what she wanted to see and who she wanted properly represented: Black people.
While nourishing her talents from a young age through her enrollment in several art programs, her love for art carried her through her education. This passion expanded into a desire to pursue journalism.
“There’s a privilege in being a storyteller because a storyteller allows you to find comfortability in uncomfortable moments,” McDuffey said. “Tell your story because sometimes the biggest challenge of telling your story is being heard. I want to tell my own story in a country that was determined to write my story for me.”
Kayla Braggs — “The Accidental Agriculturalist: Breaking Down Barriers & Changing Narratives Within the Agricultural Industry”
Atlanta native and recent graduate of FAMU with a BA in food science and agricultural business, Braggs is back to “Break Down Barriers and Change Narratives within the Agricultural Industry.”
Self-labeled “accidental agriculturalist,” Braggs is changing the agriculture industry every day by learning as much as she can while informing others of the common misconceptions in the industry.
“What I thought I knew about agriculture was barely scratching the surface of what the industry had to offer,” Braggs said.
With the agricultural impacts that affect every aspect of our daily lives going unnoticed, Braggs has made it her mission to make agriculture more accessible to people of color and erase the stigma surrounding it—stressing that agriculture is not only about farmers and tractors but about the lasting effects around us.
Charles Gee — “How Our Fascination with Trauma Holds Us Back from Pivoting to a More Purposeful Life”
FAMU Alumnus Gee closed the event with an emotional and powerful talk, retelling his experience as someone who survived multiple gunshot wounds and intense mental recovery.
Despite the severe details of his past, Gee encourages the audience not to dwell on his life-changing setback but to use it to move forward.
His segment, “How Our Fascination with Trauma Holds Us Back from Pivoting to a More Purposeful Life,” discussed how going through that experience was a wake-up call for him to abandon his old habits and pivot to a more productive goal. He credits a step-by-step, which included identifying what you want to pivot, for his success and emphasized how important it is to “keep it simple.”
“Think of [the setback] like a bus changing direction, not a sports car making a U-turn,” Gee said. “Once you choose to pivot safely and strategically, the universe just tends to work with you.”
Following a successful event and positive reception from the audience, TEDxFAMU aims to continue providing various opportunities for both alumni and students alike. The feedback and attendance confirmed the committee’s and speakers’ aspirations to carry on their excellent work and transform the event into a school tradition.