Thursday, October 6, 2011

Visions of a Heavenly TED Conference: Remembering Shuttlesworth, Bell, and Jobs

Occasionally, I think the Universe is planning some mega project and calls people back to make it happen.

Back in 2003, when we lost Gregory Hines, Nell Carter, Barry White, and other musical and theatre luminaries in such a short span, I was sure it was a Broadway musical or something that God was putting on.  I imagined the earth-sharttering encores.

Today, I envision a heavenly TED Conference featuring figures who changed the world, even as I'm saddened by the loss of Civil Rights Icon Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, legal scholar Derrick Bell, and Apple visionary Steve Jobs.

So many of my friends and colleagues had the opportunity to work with or sit at the feet of the extremely generous Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, whose courageous work as a Civil Rights leader in Birmingham, Alabama was underscored by the suffering he endured for the cause.  He was beaten nearly to death numerous times, jailed more than 30 times, and bombed at least twice. But as one of the Civil Rights Movement's "big three"(Rev. Dr. M.L. King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy), he had remained the last towering giant of an era and an example of fearless struggle.  Shuttlesworth founded the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights when the NAACP was outlawed in the state.  Later, he became a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, leading with King and Abernathy.  At different turns, he took on injustice, Bull Conner, and death.  He bested two and, for a long time, defied the third.

Scholar Derrick Bell, the first African American professor of Law at Harvard University, and a man with the ethical convictions to walk away from that post, and from a post at the U.S. Department of Justice, also passed away yesterday.  I recall taking nearly 20 of my students on a field trip to hear he scholar speak on concepts of Critical Race Theory, which he pioneered.  It literally changed the trajectory of that semester.  I wanted my students to meet a scholar and theorist who challenged us to think freely about the legacy of Brown v. Board of Ed. and the Integration movement - and its implications in today's culture. Bell created knowledge and gave others permission: first to think, and then to create knowledge of their own.  This great teacher lived the truth of his convictions and, in the process, touched the lives of so many students and citizens at large.

I'm typing these thoughts on my Apple.  I podcast on Garage Band.  Use iWeb.  Would grab the Mac in a fire....and then the photo album.  I don't have the superlatives to describe the ways in which Jobs changed the world of computing and empowered an entire generation of younger artists and visionaries just in time (Sure, no one told us how awful this economy would be.  But no one told us we could take a 13-inch laptop and a wireless connection and start our own businesses either).  Jobs' proprietary bent got to a lot of folks, but whether or not one bought into the Apple barrel, it's hard to ignore the way that Jobs changed the game.

Now I can head off and create mini-docs about Rev. Shuttlesworth and Prof. Bell and share them for free, in high def.  And my friends can watch them on devices they carry in their pockets. My friends can buy those devices because Bell and Shuttlesworth ensured the legal and social circumstances that made those purchases and our mobility possible.

Those are heady and extraordinary achievements.

What an impressive gathering.  A facebook friend, Kymberly, reminds me that Wangari Maathai and Ralph Steinman have likely already taken their place on the stage.

Imagine the panel discussions.  The presentations.  Do you guess there's a TED Talk time limit in Heaven?

I'm thinking the Universe has them working on something extraordinary.   Goodness knows we have some challenges to surmount.

Just when I had become fatalistic about the economy, the environment, human rights, social networks, politics, and justice...

Suddenly, I'm feeling a little hopeful.

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