The backdrop of the UMass Boston Campus Center ballroom stage was a black curtain sparkling with hundreds of twinkling lights. Blue and red uplights on the floor not only contributed to the mood in the room but played into the theme of the conference, "Lighting the Way to the Future."
Students in the Graduate Student Assembly, under the leadership of its President Jesse Wright, organized a TEDx conference featuring eight talks on a variety of topics from personalized cancer treatments to caring teacher-student relationships in public schools.
Darren Kew, an associate professor of conflict resolution at the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies and director of the Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development, spoke to live and online audiences on managing religious conflicts.
"To light the future," said Kew, "we need to understand the past. He continued, "Religion is an essential part of our future and the ability to bridge religious divides in an essential skill to have.”
Kew went on to describe his work with Pastor James Wuye and Imam Muhammad Ashafa at Nigeria's Interfaith Mediation Centre in Kaduna, Nigeria. He explained that Kaduna is a microcosm of the world with half its residents Christian and the other Muslim. Using the Kaduna example of these" two radical hawks, once skeptical but now more persuasive," Kew talked about their ability to reach across religious divides and to talk about a peaceful settlement of their differences.
He described the power of storytelling, the role of status and authority, and the requirement of forgiveness in successful conflict resolution.
He offered a challenge to those dealing with conflict to find the "local Mandelas" in our own communities to lead the transformation to peace. "A coach, teacher, or family leader can play this role. They have the ability to convene, to bring together populations."
Kew joined a star panel of regional business, political, and civic leaders and academics, including three from the UMass Boston community. College of Management Professor Mary Still, who planted the seed of the TEDx conference in Wright’s mind, talked about the great leadership shift of the 21st century calling for business leaders to be more like politicians and vice versa. College of Nursing and Health Sciences student Jacob Kigo Kariuki eloquently spoke of a new paradigm for making universities more prestigious. Instead of trying to be "the best in the world," this Kenyan PhD student believes, "we should instead try to be the best for the world." College of Management Interim Dean Maureen Scully served as the conference moderator.
Other speakers included Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew H. Malone, Dana Farber’s CEO Dr. Edward J. Benz, political campaigner and communications expert Alicia Harney, silver medalist and captain of the U.S.A. women’s national hockey team Meghan Duggan, and award-winning chef and CEO of her own philanthropic organization Barbara Lynch. Tony DeBlois, a blind pianist and vocalist, was the featured entertainment at the UMass Boston TEDx event.
Barbara Graceffa, a colleague of Kew’s from McCormack Graduate School, was in the audience for the entire three-hour event. "This was my first TED conference. The topics were stimulating. The speakers were fantastic−full of not only passion for their work but brimming with innovative ideas for future action. But, more importantly, I was so proud that this was an opportunity to showcase the talent at UMass Boston and to publicly acknowledge our partnerships with many of these speakers."