On 10 October over 600 people gathered at Brixton Rec for TEDxBrixton, a day of talks on a broad range of contemporary issues. Barney Evison spoke to organiser Stephanie Busari to find out how it went, and what plans she has for next year’s.
TEDxBrixton, an annual series of talks taking place in Brixton under the TED banner, was started by a “motley crew” of 13 volunteers back in 2011, says Stephanie, founder of the initiative. It now draws audiences from across the capital and beyond, and has snowballed over the past three years, from its humble beginnings into a major highlight on Brixton’s cultural calendar.
This year’s event boasted lectures on a huge range of subjects; from perceptions of black masculinity and post-gentrification Brixton, to ‘brain hacking’ and futuristic ways to cure cancer using protein crystals. Stephanie’s team received over 300 nominations for speakers, so whittling that list down to just the final 16 was a tremendous challenge. But one that essentially paid off.
“All the speakers put their hearts and souls into it,” says Stephanie, “everyone was spellbound.” The TEDxBrixton team coaches the speakers for six weeks before the event, with a professional voice coach donating time to run weekly sessions to craft their talk and hone their idea.
Many of the speakers were well-known local names, such as Steadman Scott, founder of Afewee Boxing Club, and Binki Taylor, chair of the Brixton Pound, who spoke on the theme of belonging. She recounted her childhood growing up a black girl in a white foster family and then her move to Brixton where she said she felt a strong sense of belonging for the first time.
There was also poet and playwright Inua Ellams, who’s only recently moved to the area. His talk addressed the worryingly high levels of depression among black men, and how barber shops can offer ways to combat the trend. He travelled all over Africa, speaking to different barbers and discovering how their shops are far more than just a place for cutting hair.
From further afield was Sabah Choudrey, self-labelled as “brown, Muslim and queer”, who spoke of his struggle to claim multiple identities which “aren’t supposed to co-exist”. The audience were gripped. “Several people were in tears after his talk,” says Stephanie, “he made himself very vulnerable.”
Local contestant of the BBC’s The Voice and spoken word artist, Lara Lee, also made an appearance, closing the day with a performance weaving together themes from all of the talks. She left audiences with the mantra “My cultures don’t clash / They bring cohesion”.
The overall theme for the day was ‘kaleidoscopes’, referencing Brixton’s famous diversity. “I don’t believe in melting pots,” says Stephanie, “for me the thing that Brixton embodies is not a melting pot, it’s a salad bowl; where individual elements co-exist side by side to become part of the whole.”
TEDxBrixton is a way to bring those different elements together and shine a light on the many ways people are innovating in Lambeth and beyond. “TEDxBrixton is about sharing and spreading good ideas,” says Stephanie, “it’s a local conversation and a national one – we call it a ‘hyperglocal’ event”.
So what’s on the cards for 2016? Definitely another TEDxBrixton, says Stephanie, and they’re also working on a new youth version which will be completely run and organised by young people (with support from the TEDxBrixton team “as a sounding board”). For Stephanie, planning each event comes back to an all-important question; “How can we get community more involved?”