Last week at the Wurst Biergarten, TEDxVermilionStreet, the Lafayette branch of the worldwide lecture series, announced its third theme, the timely “FOCUS: Applying the power of sustained attention and concentration upon creative solutions to the problems facing the next generation.”

In honor of the relatively new but solidified place these TEDx talks have claimed in Acadiana, I spoke with founder Taylor Sloey, Ph.D., on the series’ foundation and impact, as well as her own imprint on the city.

TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talks are popular speeches that are filmed and shared online and via podcasts with the general theme of highlighting ‘ideas worth spreading.’ TEDx, however, is “an international community of individuals that organize TED-style events independently within their own communities,” Sloey said. “These events provide a global platform for local ideas and speakers, which are then shared with the rest of the world via the TEDx YouTube channel.”

Sloey, who moved to Lafayette from Raymond, Nebraska, to pursue graduate studies in coastal ecology, first dreamed of starting a TEDx event in fall of 2014, when she saw some of her Nebraskan friends had delivered TEDx talks in their communities.

“Originally my desire was to give a TEDx Talk, but I soon realized that in order to share ideas, we needed the platform to do it.”

In just 10 months, the ever-adaptable Sloey organized a team of friends, strangers, volunteers and speakers who connected to community supporters and sponsors. Three years in, Sloey said the organization receives about 100 applications for speakers per year. One of her standouts from pervious Vermilion Street talks include Arik Hartmann’s 2016 talk “Putting the Human back in HIV.”

“His talk addressed the fact that although treatment of HIV has advanced in the past 30 years," said Sloey. "HIV positive people continue to face extreme stigmatization, largely due to lack to education. His talk was vulnerable and informative, and so well delivered.  TED featured it on their main page, elevating his message even further, and he was even recently interviewed for NPR’s TED Radio Hour.

“This for me is a huge success for Arik and his great idea, and also a small success for TEDxVermilionStreet to see the ideas from Lafayette on such a large global stage.”

FOCUS: TEDxVermilionStreet
Taylor Sloey, Ph.D.

Hartmann said the talks connected him to many people around the world:

“I've gotten to meet hundreds of people from all walks of life, HIV+ and negative, who shared their experiences and feelings with me. It's allowed me to have affirming and candid conversations that intersect sexual health, cultural expectations, and personal stories.

“It's reminded me how global the issue of HIV and stigma is. Despite different cultural beliefs and societal standards, the plight of the marginalized is pretty much the same. There's a whole community of support and acceptance that transcends borders and language and that's been humbling.”

Sloey said the most important aspect of the TEDx Vermilion Street talks is the growth that individuals go through within the span of a single year’s event, including her own.

“As the founder of TEDxVermilionStreet, I don’t expect to have any personal legacy with this event.  My husband, former TEDxVermilionStreet team member Erik Yando, and I are planning to move out of state, and the TEDx reigns have already been picked up by an amazing and capable new team.

“It fundamentally changed my experience living in Lafayette as it taught me how possible it is to get involved in this community. TEDx empowered me, and so many others, to get involved within my community and envision the power of local voices on a global stage. I hope the event continues for many years into the future, elevating ideas and sharing perspectives – I can’t think of anything more important in the world right now than that.”