TEDxJacksonville hosted its annual conference Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Florida Theatre, featuring 13 speakers and multiple performers.

The event’s theme (We, The People) was representative of the conference’s goal to remind people during divided times that we each possess the ability to shape the world for the better by working together.

The series was split into three sessions — Inventors, Builders and Dreamers.

Hearing the word “invent” likely sparks images of crafting a product such as a light bulb but the four speakers of this session crafted ideas for inspiration and self-help. Topics included physical and mental health, exercise and addiction.

Each speaker shared pieces of their own history and how those experiences, negative or positive, aided them in finding their passion. Now, they all work to improve the lives of others with their knowledge and compassion.

The Builders session looked at how as citizens we can influence and impact our community by becoming involved in civil engagement. Attendees heard the story of a woman that spent a decade working to reverse Florida’s policy on gerrymandering, a look at how we should shift our views of natural resources, urban planning shortcomings and the role we play in democracy.

The day’s final session, Dreamers, was the most emotionally moving of the day and brought some to tears and many to their feet for standing ovations.

The audience shared in the experience of teaching engineering to kindergarten students and witnessing their young, creative minds work. Then we met a group of high school men that were considered at-risk with troubled stories, and watched them form a brotherhood bond with each other that led them to the White House.

Our next speaker shared his journey of starting a restaurant staffed by young adults released from juvenile detention centers. Finally, we heard the story of a man that hopped the border fence from Mexico and began a new life picking fruit and vegetables. Now, he’s a world-renowned neurological surgeon at Mayo Clinic.

The conference was more than just a day of listening to lectures with scattered intermissions. TEDxJacksonville encouraged attendee involvement through a series of activities over the course of the day.

During the first session, the talks took a break and the TEDx team asked attendees to pair-up with a stranger seated near them. People introduced themselves and talked briefly about what they do. Then, we were instructed to tell the other person our biggest fear in social situations. A unique icebreaker that was both entertaining and slightly uncomfortable.

Other activities included brief exercises after lunch, a competition that saw the TEDx stage littered in hundreds of red paper airplanes, a virtual reality station and several spots for excellent selfies.

Music was also a common theme throughout the event. During the first session, classical pianist Arjola Miruku stunned the audience with her performance of several pieces. The UNF Chamber Singers performed during the second session, singing several powerful songs written during times of tragedy. The conference was closed by GUERRA, a musical collaboration fusing the styles of soul, funk, jazz and early rock.

TEDxJacksonville is a local, self-organized program that hosts five events throughout the year in the vein of non-profit organization TED. The concept behind both TED and the many TEDx programs is devotion to “ideas worth spreading”.

Hundreds stayed after the event to mingle and discuss what they learned, what inspired them and how they were going to approach something meaningful to them moving forward.

Ideas were certainly spread.

Read below for a brief recap of each speaker from the conference.


Jeff Galloway
Former Olympic athlete Jeff Galloway kicked-off the event by recalling his youth in which he was overweight, academically apathetic and struggled to find motivation.

While at his 14th school in 13 years, he found himself pulled into a group of cross-country runners and found acceptance for the first time. Admittedly, he was terrible at running, but discovered the activity motivated him for the first time.

Decades later, he has authored 30 books, contributed to various sports and news outlets and consulted with groups such as NASA, the White House Health Club, the U.S. military and countless corporations across North America.

His goal is to teach people the importance of exercise in maintaining mental dexterity. Even for those in poor health—like he once was—gradual, gentle exercises can be the stepping-stone to building yourself as a better person.

Brenda Bradley
The next speaker, Dr. Brenda Bradley, also faced personal health struggles during her life. After spending years overweight and pre-diabetic despite home-cooked meals and exercise, she decided to try a plant-based diet for 40 days.

She lost over 30 pounds during the experiment and had newfound energy. Once the diet ended, she discovered meat and dairy were negatively impacting her. After joking at the idea of becoming “one of those weird vegan people,” she took the plunge and committed to abstain from animal byproducts.

Her health has improved, she is no longer pre-diabetic and she has developed her own plant-based food program to help people improve their own health.

Manal Fakhoury
Next, Manal Fakhoury, Pharm.D., described her observations and research into the opioid epidemic. Fakhoury recalled being a retail pharmacist in the 1990s and the influx of prescriptions she filled for Oxycontin and Vicodin. Admittedly, she was critical of abusers until she began to work with the prison system.

She discovered through mentoring and clinical research that the epidemic is a symptom of deeper issues—mental pain, fear, depression and emotional distress.

For decades, the companies behind the drugs mislead the public and crafted a negative perception of those struggling with addiction, according to Fakhoury.

Moving past this perception and working to truly address the deeper issues of suffering individuals, rather than loading them with narcotics, is what she believes is key to fighting the drug crisis.

Shari Duval
Shari Duval concluded the session with the story of her son who served two tours in Iraq as a dog bomb handler. Upon returning, she sensed he was troubled and more distant than he once was.

Her son was suffering from post-traumatic stress, like many other war veterans. She decided to start K9s For Warriors as a way to help her son, and others in his situation, cope with their experiences. The organization adopts shelter dogs and trains them to suit the needs of their veteran.

Duval shared the emotionally charged stories of three veterans the non-profit organization has assisted. Since it’s founding, K9s For Warriors has served over 400 veterans, who Duval described as “kids taught how to go to war, but not come home.”


Ellen Freidin
Ellen Freidin began the second session with a lesson in gerrymandering—the practice of legislative bodies, crafting obscure districts to ensure their party’s own political success in elections.

In 2006, she led a citizen’s initiative to amend the Florida Constitution in a way to outlaw political gerrymandering. Freidin and her team spent ten years gathering data, generating public support and fighting legal battles before her goal finally became law.

She uses her story to encourage other citizens to get involved in political causes they believe to help promote change.

Marc Hudson
Nature provides humanity with many overlooked services such as providing protection from floods or cleaning pollutants. However, little protection is offered to these resources and their services often forgotten.

Hudson argues this occurs because we have no monetary value to attach to nature. People know the cost of their utility bill, their vehicle, their home, but not the landscape around them, according to Hudson.

He discussed the concept of eco-utilities, which are natural resources that provide services we often pay for such as water purification. By viewing these as eco-utilities Hudson believes we can better preserve the environment and improve infrastructure, while not negatively impacting rural workers.

Jaimie Sloboden
“People matter more than cars,” was the message of Jaimie Sloboden who entered the TEDx stage on his bicycle. Sloboden is a civil engineer working in transportation who noted the poor safety rankings for Jacksonville and Florida in regards to pedestrian and bicycle safety.

Sloboden attributes this to poor planning focused exclusively on automobiles, laws that criminalize crossing and a cultural perspective that walking/biking is inferior to driving.

He described current initiatives to improve walkability in the city and encouraged residents to get involved in transportation forums and hearings.

Chris Hand
A lifetime of working for elected officials has taught Chris Hand how to get things done in government. Rather than keeping this information to himself, he strives to help people embrace their role as citizen in democracy.

Hand shared three unique stories of individuals creating change in their community through civic work and dedication. They included a woman that preserved art deco architecture in Miami Beach, an environmental movement between two sides of the political spectrum and the resignation of University of Missouri’s president after a football team protest.

Cynthia Barnett
Cynthia Barnett wrote the book on rain—literally, he authored a book titled Rain and took attendees on a historical and cultural journey of the natural event. Barnett uses data research to study rainfall patterns across the globe and how it compares to historical phenomenon.

Barnett believes the research is overwhelming that climate change is occurring and being sped by the actions of humans. However, science is being ignored and a voice has been given to the ill informed, according to Barnett.

She believes a shift in the way we view rain and water as a culture is necessary to appreciate its power and the effect we have on each other.

Melanie Flores
Melanie Flores is both an engineer and a mother. After witnessing her own children’s creative ingenuity, she set out to form an engineering design workshop—for kindergarten students.

Flores took the audience on a “tour of the mind of a child engineer” as we witnessed from start to finish a class of students design, plan and build shoes. During the process, a photo diary was made to track and log the project. Once the workshop ended, students had to present their shoe and why it was successful.

Flores found that different students had their own personal goals with their shoes—some were concerned with style, some comfort and even one boy that wanted his to be waterproof. Upon reflecting on their finished products, children wrote if they liked the project and why or why not. Flores was amazed when several described their love of the project because it was difficult.

Amy Donofrio
Amy Donofrio is a teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville and concerned with helping at-risk youth.

She founded a program at the school called EVAC, which took eight high-risk students and focused on making them “at-hope” as Donofrio described. The students had issues with the law, struggled in school and had troubled home lives. The program pushed the young men to form a brotherhood that would support each other in times of need.

The group of boys worked to develop better school habits, improved social skills and all around better lives. Their success allowed them to collaborate with local law enforcement and government leaders, a front-page feature in the New York Times, a competition at Harvard and a trip to the White House to meet with then-President Obama.

The story struck emotional levels for many in the audience as Donofrio brought out the young men and discussed the hardships they faced from arrests to the loss of family members. The message they wanted to convey to the audience and the world is that “anything is possible.”

Donofrio’s presentation ended with a standing ovation from the audience.

Chad Houser
When Chad Houser set out to raise $250,000 for a nonprofit restaurant, staffed by young adults right out of juvenile detention programs, people thought he was crazy.

The dream began when Houser, an executive chef and restaurant owner, helped a group of kids in juvenile detention compete in a local ice cream making competition. He realized after the program ended, those kids would go right back to the situations that got them in trouble to begin with.

Therefore, Houser decided to open Café Momentum, a 12-month paid internship program for kids coming out of detention to learn job and life skills. After their time at Café Momentum, they are eligible to be hired by one of the many restaurants Houser has partnered with.

Houser has helped countless young men and women find steady employment and prepared them for a successful life after arrest. In addition to helping those in the program he has saved the city of Houston, Café Momentum’s location, millions of dollars in tax savings by reducing the number of return inmates.

Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa – “Dr. Q”
Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa is better known by his nickname, Dr. Q. Originally from Mexico, Dr. Q came to the United States at the age of 19 by jumping over the border fence.

He spent the next several years laboring as a farm worker and later a welder. After completing a bachelor’s degree in psychology, he attended Harvard Medical School and continued to follow his career to new heights.

Dr. Q is now part of the staff at Mayo Clinic and is considered by many to be one of the top neurosurgeons in the world. In addition, he is researching how to cure brain cancer, has written numerous books and peer-reviewed papers and had his life story picked-up by Disney for a movie.

Despite his success Dr. Q is humble and humorous—sharing embarrassing photos and stories from his youth when he dreamed of being as great as his favorite comic book character. He told the crowd the same hands that once picked fruit, now performs brain surgery and the only difference he can see is that (in addition to learning a little more) he stayed hopeful, believed in himself and worked towards his goal.

See photos of the speakers below, courtesy of Tiffany Manning, TEDxJacksonville.