Homeless and rummaging around for a decent shirt, Heather Cole prepares herself for the dreaded first day of school.
Fully conscious of herself, Cole attempts to hide and mask her identity as homeless.
Walking through the hallways, she dips her head. For lunch, she crisscrosses her legs over the toilet in the bathroom stall so no one knows she eats there in shame.
Throughout the day, she hides successfully until gym. Pummeled by the “popular” girl in gym, Cole sits defeated and crying.
Cole has come a long way since then, rising to a position of lecturer of digital arts at Penn State Behrend. Her personal talents were on display at Saturday’s TEDxErie talk, held at the Warner Theater, as she made the background for the event.
“My personal struggles inspired me,” Cole said.
“We need each other in the community to hold each other up.”
Saturday’s event featured a variety of activities, including a series of talks about ideas worth spreading.
It marked the second consecutive year that Erie has hosted a TEDx talk. Last year’s event was limited to 100 participants at the Art Museum, according to Jonathan D’Silva, organizer and lead curator.
But this year they went to the main TED conference to accommodate more participants in the audience.
“This [TEDx] is incredible,” D’Silva said. “It’s not about me, it’s about the over 90 volunteers. Everyone comes in with idea of what they want to do — it’s everybody else’s vision.”
One of those visions came from Jeffrey Bloodworth, Ph.D., an associate professor of history at Gannon University, who gave a talk titled “Listerine and Tragic Optimism: Or Why the World isn’t Going to Hell.”
“My inspiration was the [Donald] Trump campaign,” Bloodworth said. “I find it absolutely racist and profoundly un-American.
“We [Americans] are an accepting society. My talk rebutted the dark, bitter, racist campaign that scumbag is running.
“I made no mention of his name. I hope people gained perspective that the world isn’t going to hell, but it’s extraordinary how advanced we’ve become as a society.”
The talks all consisted of 15-minute lecture-style presentations, with each talk coming from a unique vision and motivation. However, all centered on the theme of “Don’t Sink the Ship,” referring to not giving up on Erie.
“Erie has slowly become a more dynamic stage,” Bloodworth said. “It is slowly becoming a nice place to live, with people that are successful wanting to move back.”
Shreelina Ghosh, an assistant professor of English at Gannon, also took part in the event, as did Rebecca Styn, a Gannon graduate student. Ghosh, originally from India, is a first-year professor in the English department.
Undergraduate students also attended the TED talk, hoping to broaden their horizons. Andrew Fair, a Gannon freshman, was among those who turned out for the event.
“I was most surprised by the amount of passion in the tone of these speakers,” he said. “Each person was truly inspiring and devoted to what they were speaking about.”
Fair also said the TEDx talks went beyond his expectations in sharing culture, personal struggles, insight and knowledge from some fantastic speakers and performers.
For D’Silva, the hardest part of organizing the event was managing everybody’s expectations.
“Everybody has a vision,” he said. “We have to realize we are here for community and conversation.
“The only way for this to happen is if you leave your ego at the door.”
Both Cole and Bloodworth went through intensive preparation for their lectures. For Cole, she practiced 50-100 times for her talk.
Bloodworth, meanwhile, said, “It consumed my life.”
However, both said they would most definitely relive the experience.
“I did it to relax,” Bloodworth said. “Once you get older you get accustomed to being comfortable with the same routine. I think it was important to challenge myself with this talk.”
Overall, Bloodworth said the hopes of the talk were to inspire the community and continue the progression of Erie as a reputable place to live.
“Erie has a lot going for it as a city,” said Bloodworth, a nine-year resident of Erie. “It’s becoming better.”