TEDx Charlottesville hosts local innovators to speak their minds

TEDx Charlottesville hosts local innovators to speak their minds

The question of the day is “The Difference that Makes a Difference.” The answers are many.

So believe organizers of Charlottesville’s first-ever TEDx event at the Paramount Theater. The event, a local version of the global TED educational conferences, will host 18 speakers from the Charlottesville area who will offer short talks on everything from Shakespearean theater to medical research.

Watch the Charlottesville TEDx talks live here.

“The core concept we all wanted was that the smallest things have the most significant impact,” said Richard Averitt, one of the organizers of the event. “All of these speakers are remarkable individuals, who have done incredible things. The work that they’re doing has a larger, more global compounding effect. More than you might expect.”

His sister Dawn Averitt is one. A local activist for HIV and AIDS research and awareness and survivor of HIV since age 19, she’s also the founder of the Well Project, an organization dedicated to providing accessible information to women living with HIV as well as advocacy for treatment research, Averitt hopes to educate her audience on the next steps in these efforts and how they can help.

“It’s ironic,” she said, “because the U.S. is the global leader in HIV and AIDS treatment, and has an enormous amount to be proud of, but very few people know what’s happening here. There’s an old saying that goes ‘the cobbler’s children have no shoes.’ We can end this epidemic, but we have not done that yet.”

“There is a lot of really good news,” she said. “We know how to prevent it, we know how to treat it, and people living with it are living long healthy lives. We can do better today if people will choose to get off the bleachers and get onto the field, and if we embrace possibility.”

Richard Averitt, Averitt’s brother, and an organizer of the TEDX event, said his sister’s experience and efforts, since her diagnosis have had a worldwide influence.

“Her journey has gone from a place of total fear to now being on Obama’s PACHA (Presidential Advisory Council on HIV and AIDS). The end result is she went on to make a global difference.

“We’ve been going for ten years now,” he said, “We’re helping 30 million people a year. In every single country in the world we’re helping at least one person.”

Hawa Ahmed, a third-year Quest Scholar at the University of Virginia, will speak about the importance of investing in low-income students, an issue that has become particularly relevant with the recent cuts to AccessUVA, the University’s financial aid program.

“I saw that UVa was ranked 30 on the list [of low-income schools],” she said. It’s really alarming that we are at the bottom in terms of socioeconomic diversity. You’d think more prestigious schools would be more welcoming. There’s something about our image that’s not appealing.”

“I didn’t think I was going to go to college,” she explained. “There are a lot of people who work really hard in high school who can’t go to college for purely monetary reasons. My friends go on to be resident advisors and presidents of their organizations, or they write for the school newspaper. We’re just happy to be here.”—Matthew Fay