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TEDx Manhattan Beach Stretches Boundaries

Nov 05, 2023 09:36PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Contortionist Aryn Shelander demonstrates her flexibility and balance at TEDx Manhattan Beach.

TEDx Manhattan Beach drew more than 700 attendees on Saturday, with speakers and programs that stretched boundaries - literally - from a contortionist to a photographer of massive waves.

The event also put a spotlight on young local visionaries, including Mira Costa High School students with big ideas for the future, as well as multiple local nonprofits and student groups.

The annual TEDx Manhattan Beach is one of the most popular TEDx events in the country, with more than 35 million video views of its speaker talks. Held at the Mira Costa High School campus, the all-volunteer-run nonprofit event features a slate of inspirational and innovative speakers, as well as an expo with forward-thinking ideas and offerings.

Notably, Saturday's event offered American Sign Language interpreters for each presentation. Featured speaker Michael Agyin, the president of the deaf advocacy group Hear Zero, discussed the importance of ASL in integrating deaf and hard of hearing people into society. The Mira Costa ASL Club also gave ASL demonstrations at the expo.

Another central focus at the event was going "green." Student volunteers from Grades of Green stood beside all the trash receptacles to help event-goers sort trash between recycling, compost, and landfill. The company ByFusion, which creates a zero-waste building material called ByBlock out of mostly unrecyclable plastic, collected all of the plastic recyclables during the day with the plan to turn them into a bench that will be donated to Mira Costa.

(Participants crowd the ByBlock exhibit)

Boundary-Breakers Describe Transformational Moments

The event opened with a literal boundary-stretcher: contortionist Aryn Shelander. Shelander explained how her early desire to become a circus performer led to her eventual career as a full-time contortion artist. After venturing to Mongolia with her contortion coach, she became skilled in the ancient art of "foot archery." (Foot archery is, surprisingly, just what it sounds like: While standing on your hands, you use your feet to hold the bow and shoot the arrow - and yes, she did demonstrate.)

Shelander said that it took her ten years of practice to reach her current level of flexibility and agility. Not everyone will be a contortionist, she said, but she challenged the audience to think about "What would you accomplish if you did something that you thought was awesome, and practiced it ten times more than you do now?"


The audience also heard from Malcom-Jamal Warner, a "spoken word artist" and actor/director/producer best known for his long run on "The Cosby Show." Warner spoke of how he had learned to open himself to becoming vulnerable, and he encouraged others to do the same.

"Vulnerability can be a scary thing," he said. "When you hide yourself to please someone else, you put a part of your soul on hold. There is nothing 'weak' about being your authentic self. It's taken me all these years to see my vulnerability as my superpower."

Another highlight was photographer Sachi Cunningham, who is known for her photographs of "Maverick" waves - the giant waves found at Mavericks Beach in Northern California. Cunningham described being in those waves as like "a cosmic washing machine."

(Cunningham displays her underwater camera; an ASL interpreter is in the foreground.)

Cunningham said that she had taught herself not to fear the giant waves by remembering to remain calm, trust herself, and surrender. She added that she had persevered through a bipolar diagnosis, two traumatic hospitalizations, the death of her mother, and a double mastectomy and hysterectomy - and that the ocean inspired her to reclaim her own life.

"The ocean gave me life when chemo sucked it out of me," she said.

Particpants also heard from scientists who are defining the new anthropocene epoch, exploring the clean energy potential of natural hydrogen, and envisioning sustainable development.

Mira Costa Students Shine

Two Mira Costa students appeared as speakers at the conference. Junior Anthony Padnos drew on his Model UN experience to propose a framework for helping people discuss complicated issues. Padnos laid out his principles for constructive debate, which include "Be curious, not furious; no bulldozing; focus on the policy, not the person; use reputable sources only; and pursue the goal of perspective-sharing, not mind-changing." Padnos currently leads the Manhattan Beach Middle School MUN Club, mentoring students in debate and preparing them for high school programs; and is president of the Mira Costa Art Ventures Club, which organizes free art lessons for disadvantaged youths at downtown Los Angeles homeless shelters.

Junior Winston Iskandar spoke of his passion for both music and technology, and talked about how he was able to fuse those two interests by co-developing the MIDI Coder Web App that can let anyone create digital music. Iskandar currently serves as a music technology research intern in the Collaborative Music Lab at MIT. He also interns at a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Research Lab at Dartmouth College, where he has worked on developing a tailored chatbot learning tool for students interested in artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Also appearing at the expo was Mira Costa sophomore Lila Mokhtari, who placed first in the national Young Entrepreneurs Association (YEA!) competition earlier this year with her soap business Maji.


Expo Offered Experiential Learning

Highlights from the expo included a community art project presented by artist Alicia Piller and ESMOA, the El Segundo Museum of Art. Participants wrote a personal mantra on paper and then scrolled the paper to create a bead, which they could use to make a bracelet or necklace.

Participants also had a chance to experience a sound bath with White Light Sounds; try out the "Mind Spa Experience" through Neuma Being; observe South Bay's Matt Grote shape surfboards; and learn about hands-free brain-computer interface projects through CruX @UCLA.

Local businesses represented at the event included Manhattan Bread & Bagel, GROW, Bashi Bakes, Mychal's Bakery, and {pages} a bookstore.

This year's presenting sponsors included the city of Manhattan Beach, the Manhattan Beach Unified School District, and the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation.

Missed this year's TEDx? Mark your calendars for November 2, 2024 for the 19th annual TEDx Manhattan Beach.

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