Third Memphis TEDx Event Set for Jan. 6

By Andy Meek

When Hardy Farrow takes the stage in the Halloran Centre at The Orpheum Theatre in a few weeks, it will be to present his argument about poverty and what to do about it.

Farrow – who founded LITE Memphis, which stands for Let’s Innovate Through Education – is one of the speakers who’ll be presenting talks Jan. 6 at TEDxMemphis, which has as its theme this year “The Slant.” The conference will be a chance for speakers like Farrow to share their perspective – their slant, as it were – on the world around them.

“I’m talking about why poverty can’t be solved,” Farrow says. “And basically my argument is that we’ve spent, I don’t know, billions of dollars as a country, countless time, countless energy trying to move the needle on poverty with education and charter schools and neighborhood programs, and our poverty rate really hasn’t changed since the early ’70s, as a country.

“I wanted to, like, push people to think – do we just focus on the effects of poverty, because they’re really tangible and easy to see and they’re emotional and it makes us feel good? Or are we really actually committed to there being less people in poverty?”

Attendees at the event will hear him argue that creating wealth (“because poverty is the lack of wealth”) is the way to solve that challenge. And the best way to create it? Scale up small businesses, especially in minority communities.

Farrow came to Memphis as part of the Teach for America program. The LITE organization he founded works to equip African-American/Latinx students with “21st-century skills to create wealth.” 

“I kind of came to this realization myself, because I was a teacher for a while, and I thought that was a solution to everything,” Farrow said. “But I realized that for every great day I’d have in the classroom, there were 10 other things that would affect my students outside of my control. A lot that had to do with their lack of wealth. And that wasn’t something I could really affect as a teacher.”

It’s a talk that will be part of an expanded TEDx lineup this year, which will include 24 speaker sessions – 12 each during the morning and afternoon programs.

The location is also new this year. The event has moved from the Rose Theatre at the University of Memphis to the Halloran Centre Downtown.

Anna Mullins, vice president of communications and strategic initiatives at New Memphis Institute who acts as director of the TEDxMemphis effort, said the idea has always been for TEDx to be mobile, to move around town and take different forms.

“So we’re excited to be at the Halloran Centre this year, and we intend to move next year as well,” she said. “And then the other part of it that’s different because of that is we’re having a morning and afternoon session, so attendees can purchase tickets for the morning session or afternoon session or if they’re avid TED fans they can get discounted tickets for the full day. That gave us room to add additional speakers, so this year we have 24 speakers, which is an increase of about seven from last year.”

Sports columnist Geoff Calkins will be this year’s emcee. TEDxMemphis is organized and managed by a small committee of TED enthusiasts, along with New Memphis. Tickets for individual sessions for either the morning or afternoon are $30, and all-day tickets are $50. The event’s website,, has more information, including the option to buy tickets.

Speakers for the morning session include: Ekundayo Bandele, founder of Hattiloo Theatre; Cinthya Bolanos and Kynnedy Tuggle, students at Rhodes College; Josh Campbell, storyteller at Spillit Memphis; Suzanne Carlson, transportation and mobility project manager at Innovate Memphis; Sarah Carpenter, executive director at Memphis Lift; Hardy Farrow, executive director of LITE Memphis; Brit Fitzpatrick, founder of MentorME; Logan Guleff, celebrity chef; Drew Holcomb, musician; John Newman, attorney at Baker Donelson; Dorchelle Spence, vice president with the Riverfront Development Corp.; and Greg Thompson, director of research and strategy, Clayborn Reborn.

Speakers for the afternoon session include: Jen Andrews, CEO of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy; Dr. Justin Baker, chief of the Division of Quality of Life and Palliative Care at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Elizabeth Cawein, director of Memphis Music Export; Briahna Chambers, instructor at Tech901; Katrina Coleman, co-creator and producer of “You Look Like” web series; Dr. Elena Delavega, associate professor of social work at the University of Memphis; Demetria Frank, associate professor at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law; Terri Freeman, president of the National Civil Rights Museum; Boo Mitchell, owner of Royal Studios; Josh Spickler, executive director at Just City; Joseph Wooten, musician for the Steve Miller Band; and Josh Yates, cultural sociologist at the University of Virginia. 

“We’re trying to represent ideas from different ages, races, genders, experiences, and beyond that we want the talks to have a good balance,” Mullins said. “We want to make sure we’re populating it with talks around many various subjects, from science and health to social change and activism to theories on tech – all the things that sort of represent what TED is.”

TEDx started in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment and design converged, but has become much more today.