Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

TEDx Detroit 2014I’m not wrong very often. And when I am, I admit it.

After years of shunning TEDx conferences, I finally attended my first. Sure, I’d seen my fair share of TED Talks via Podcast and on “the YouTube,” but, frankly, many of them seemed like esoteric, idealistic crap.

Held at the Detroit Opera House downtown on Tuesday, September 30, TEDx Detroit lived up to its own expectations and then some. The conference delivered not only, as its motto says “Positive ideas for the world from Detroit,” but also inspired additional ideas, action and analysis.  The most powerful talks got people thinking, a process that (I personally think) is lacking these days.

It turned out TEDx Detroit wasn’t just another pep rally to make Detroiters feel good about themselves. The inspiration I gained from attending is still with me days later (not like the impact of a cheesy high school motivational speaker). For the first time ever, I walked away with positive thoughts about the city, its future and future leaders. Maybe there still does exist a thinking generation.


The crowd was a diverse group, serious adults often absent of social media accounts, to actual entrepreneurs (not the ones who just claim they are entrepreneurs because they have a cubical in a “techie” downtown ofice building and will likely disappear into oblivion in a year or two because they lack a workable business plan).

If I were The Detroit News’ Chuck Bennett or Detroit Jewish News’ Danny Raskin, I would go a step further now and rattle off a list of specific folks in attendance this year. WDIV-TV’s Andrew Humphrey was there, complete in stylishly-connected Google glasses; former WWJ-AM tech reporter Matt Roush, Trevor George of Blue Wheel Media and Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Graves De Armond.

The entire affair was hosted by emcee Charlie Wollberg of Curve Detroit.


I was live tweeting during the event, so I didn’t take many traditional notes. But I can tell you the speakers who made an impact on me … well because I remember them.

        • Sam White of Shakespeare in the D told her story of how her love of Shakespeare (induced by a little help from her mom) and her own courage to create a Shakespeare theatre troupe in Detroit. After all, she grew up in the neighborhoods of Detroit and wanted to perform for Detroiters, but her sentiment was “Do people from those neighborhoods even know who Shakespeare was, let alone like his work enough to watch it as a play?” She scheduled her first performance for a small park in the city and more than just her Mom showed up, she knew she was on to something.
        • Pixar’s James Murphy took the stage to share with the audience the importance of putting yourself into your work. He shared his personal tale of conceptualizing the soon-to-be released short film ‘Lava.’ After near work burnout (my words, not his), Murphy began trying to develop a concept for Lava. He combined the memories of an once-in-a-lifetime trip with his family with the experience of his 40-something sister finding the love of her life after a longtime search and preparing to settle down to create a film which inspired him and to which he felt intimately connected.



      • The University of Michigan’s Dr. Joyce Lee gave one of the event’s most horrific, yet most thought-provoking presentations of the conference. She shared her views on how patients are going to be seen as the “experts” in their own care. She told the tale of her own young son who had worked with her to create a video directed to his caregivers on how to identify that he was having a food allergy attack and how to administer the EpiPen for him. Her emphasis on patient responsibility for their own health was a little unsettling in a culture where we’ve been trained to leave things into the hands of the trained physicians (I’d share the video with you, but I can’t seem to find it). However, she’s correct. It’s your life and most important to you. If you want to prolong it, it’s up to you to figure out how to stay alive.
      • Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences Children’s Choir performed twice during the afternoon of TEDx Detroit. They were amazing. And I’m not a big music fan. Those kids could not only perform, but were fearless. Their energy was contagious.


If you couldn’t make it, but want to be as inspired around our region and future as I was, you can watch clips from the event by visiting:

The Lost Children of Michigan

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

By Alan Upchurch

Recently, I watched with pride as my youngest child walked across the stage and received his high school diploma.  It was a special moment for me, my wife Patty, and our son Trevor.  Trevor was diagnosed with autism when he was about 4 years old.  There have been many obstacles along the way, but Trevor has defeated most of them and grown into a bright, engaging, happy young man.

On graduation day, I also thought a lot about his future.  Trevor always tells his Mom and I that he loves the state of Michigan and can’t imagine leaving.  But as Michigan struggles to rebound from years of economic calamity, I wonder if his best opportunities will come elsewhere.  My eldest daughter has already left the state.  She’s in California. Many of her friends are gone, too.  They’re working in Chicago, Atlanta and other cities around the country.  In the last 10 years Michigan has lost nearly 800,000 private sector jobs.  What frightens and angers me is the lack of outrage, and the lack of urgency from government and business leaders throughout the state. They talk a good game. But where is the action.  The candidates for governor are as unimpressive as I have seen in the past 30 years.  Have you heard any of your friends or neighbors talking about the great ideas and leadership skills of these candidates?   People are apathetic and one of the big reasons for their indifference is the uninspiring candidates.

We need a Marshall Plan, which helped rebuild war-torn Europe, because Michigan is losing one battle after another in this economic war.   And now we are losing our children to other states that are better prepared and, apparently, more willing to fight for their economic future.   Cool cities?  How about a cool jobs creation plan that will give young people like my son a reasonable chance at economic success in a state he loves so much.