Culture TEDx

I used to think I couldn’t get out of hell: Chicago public school students react to TEDxYouth@Midwest

Posted by: Hailey Reissman

Jullien Gordon, a founding partner of New Higher, says on the TEDxYouth@Midwest stage , “Our generation has two choices, we can hope or we can hustle.”

Earlier this month, 450 Chicago public school sophomores and juniors, plus 120 of their teachers, crowded into the city’s Harris Theater for TEDxYouth@Midwest, an event all about inspiring, motivating and empowering the young people of a city known for youth gun violence, but full of so much more — culture, history, educators and students dedicated to helping their city thrive.

Chicago’s public schools have been a fixture in the news lately. 54 schools in the city are slated to close in 2013, and according to reports in The Chicago Tribune, the 2011-12 school year brought the highest number of public school students affected by gunfire since 2008. Twenty-four students were killed; 319 students shot.

At TEDxYouth@Midwest, organizers strove to turn the focus from problems, and keep it focused on the potential. 17 speakers addressed the audience, including people like guerrilla gardener Ron Finley, who is planting gardens in South Central LA; Dr. Benjamin Harrison, a researcher working on growing replacement tissue for patients who have lost their own; and Chicago native Zoe Damacela, who started her own apparel line as a high school student in the city.

This year, TEDxYouth@Midwest launched their TEDxMidwest Youth Connections Program, a project pairing TEDxYouth@Midwest students with career experiences designed to open the doors to potential careers — from job shadowing to summer internships to discussions with local entrepreneurs. Through the program, 35 TEDxYouth@Midwest student attendees found summer internships and, next year, the team at TEDxYouth@Midwest hopes to raise that number to 100.

“The event was levels better because of the students’ infectious energy, and its potential to really have a life-changing effect on hundreds of kids and teachers,” said Mike Hettwer, who co-organized the event with

Linda Stone.

“The speakers were so motivated to speak there.”

The immediate effects of the event shone in students’ responses to comment cards asking how their thinking changed throughout the event. Some of their responses are truly incredible. A sampling:

I used to think… “That once you made a bad decision, that was it for you. People say you write your life’s story in ink — if you make a mistake there is no way to erase it. You are done!”
Now I think… “That I should no longer aim for perfection, but rather strive for success. Success is not measured by how many times you fall, but actually choosing to get up once more then you fall.” 

I used to think…”That you have to use violence in order to make peace.”
Now I think… “But I realize that I can use peace to make peace.”

I used to think… “That because I am considered a minority, I would not be able to do amazing things I really want to do.”
Now I think… “That I can do anything I set my mind to if I do not let anything hold me back. Only I can prevent myself from achieving my goals and my passion.”

I used to think… “I couldn’t get out of Hell.”
Now I think… “I can with Mellody Hobson’s speech.”

I used to think… “I was one of the few teenagers passionate about science.”
Now I think… “TED is all about diversity of ideas and other people are as passionate about science as I am.”

I used to think… “If you come from a broken home, would live in a broken future.”
Now I think… “You can shape your own future and get away from the brokeness.”

I used to think… “This was going to be a long boring program with weird snacks.”
Now I think… “This experience has been the best experience in my whole entire life.”

The audience at TEDxYouth@Midwest was made up of sophomores and juniors.

The audience at TEDxYouth@Midwest was made up of sophomores and juniors.


Dave Gallo, Director of Special Projects at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) talks about the deep sea and its deep secrets.

One of the amazing comment carders from TEDxYouth@Midwest.

One of the amazing comment carders from TEDxYouth@Midwest.

Read much more about TEDx and its extraordinary constellation of events on the TEDx Blog »

Comments (10)

  • Holmes Vaughan commented on May 17 2013

    Hmm Great to See it.Its really gives different thoughts of different we can get a idea about youth MidWest.

  • Jim Ryan commented on May 16 2013

    I wrote the following and a lot more.

    Spin dizzy earth

    Science by Jim Ryan

    Ask any person to spin around 30 times and see what happens as they spin on their feet at maybe 3 miles an hour.

    Then all we need do is consider how the earth is spinning at 1,000 miles per hour in a circle and yet, none show signs of dizziness or sickness from such.

    The above implies that our cells are spinning to match the earths amount of spin or everybody would be sick and dizzy.

    Any extra spin creates dizziness at the least, implying a pretty delicate balance, but hey, can you or science or anyone give a better reason for such.

  • Jim Ryan commented on May 16 2013

    I wrote this

    The science of running by Jim Ryan.

    Yes, I used to run 10 miles a day for about 2 years. For whatever reason, I started counting a cadence in my head, that matched the cadence of my footfalls and my breathing, which synced body and mind, helping me to get into a trance like state, allowing me to run mile after mile without stress and the last mile I could run almost flat out.

    I know they teach different things today, but give my method a try, I think you’ll like it. By the way, keep your eyes focused just in front of you, on the ground.

    The cadence in running I used to use was, “one two three one”, ” one two three two”, “one two three three”, and keep going.

    It’s a 4 count breathing in and then a 4 count breathing out.

    Happy running.

  • Jim Ryan commented on May 16 2013

    I wrote this

    Brazilian dams bad

    3 hours ago: Think of nature as a self replicating machine, the more water an area has, the more rainfall it will generate. The more trees it has, the more trees it will generate, provided the water meets their demand. Then according to science, the dams generate a lot of methane, that I believe will inhibit rainfall for that area and well beyond. It seems dams must destroy biodiversity, eventually ruining the self replication in nature.

  • Jim Ryan commented on May 16 2013

    Ted, you challenge everyone to take challenges.

    I see you don’t practice what you preach.

  • Jim Ryan commented on May 16 2013

    Chicago and twelve other American cities are all on the verge of bankruptcy, due to the incompetency of the so called leaders, to understand or care. Ted to the rescue, right?

    Teds website is a stage for mediocrity. You can’t reply to me, because of teds desire for mediocrity, just like the school systems.

    Can’t wait to see Ted lift Chicago out of its bankrupt state, so those kids can have a job, as long as those kids are properly brainwashed.

    No one at Ted can argue gravitational lensing, speed of light theory or gravity with me, because like most all in the school system, they were not taught to think for themselves.

    • Morton Bast commented on May 16 2013

      Hi, Jim. Can you explain what you mean?

      • Jim Ryan commented on May 16 2013

        Sure Morton.

        Ted censors me heavily. Luckily, they allowed a reply button on this page, but all the other pages, Ted leaves the edit/ delete button, only, so no one can reply to what I write. I came to this site, hoping to find people with more than a copy and paste education, but no luck so far. I write about how gravitational lensing is pure nonsense, just as gravity and light theory, for which, no one on this site can get past copy and paste. I write about things I can prove and if no one, not even Ted staff can debate me on these subjects, while they heavily censor me, because the school systems don’t teach how to think for oneself, they teach copy and paste.

        This page shows the edit button, no reply button, just as on anything I write.

        Because it seems none here can think for themselves and bring a solid debate, Ted sencors me, because no one else here can think for themselves. All they have is copy and paste and Ted challenges the planet, but it refuses to accept challenges out in the open.

        Ted is right in that most all people cannot think for themselves, so they protect the copy and paste individuals from having to face that reality.

        I have hunted the net for years, to find at least one individual I can relate too, but no luck.

        If anyone cares to see, have them debate me on gravitational lensing, light theory or gravity.

        If I missed anything, just ask or assert.

        • Morton Bast commented on May 17 2013

          Thanks for your thoughts. The way our commenting system actually works, no user can reply to his or her own comment. I can, in fact, see a reply button to your comments, and even as an admin I can’t reply to my own. (As you can see, the blog comments work slightly differently from the talk comments and TED Conversations.) If you’d like to discuss this further, please email

      • Jim Ryan commented on May 16 2013

        Look at the web page I supplied. I was debating Pabitra, when she got mad that she could not answer the questions I posed, so she essentially called me a 7th grader, for which I laughed–lol and I essentially returned the favor. Ted censored me only.

        I know why, but that just means Ted wants cut and paste, even while it claims to teach intelligence.

        Pabitra failed in trying to defend gravitational lensing. Notice that no one else could debate the subject.

        By what Ted does, it wants copy and pasters, while it hates new thinking.

        Ask Pabitra how her claims of ring lensing work and ask her for evidence. Lol

        I asked more questions, but Ted took them down.

        I also wrote the following and a whole lot more.

        by Jim Ryan

        In the following I would suggest that science study children that rarely wear shoes or don’t wear shoes at all. I would divide the study into different nations or groups of nations with basically, the same diseases.

        I would divide the shoeless– because of intense poverty, from the people and children that choose to go shoeless and those that rarely or almost never go without shoes.

        I might look at the data as the mostly shoeless by desire as mentally and possibly physically, stronger and therefore, more resistant to disease, unless science finds differently.

        It may be that kids and people exposed to the pathogens in the dirt, grass and mud puddles on a constant basis, build stronger immune systems, at least for those that choose to go barefoot.