Monday’s TEDx featured riveting speakers

Second annual event explored ‘New Frontiers.’

James Beard Foundation award winning chef Michel Nischan. — Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

This past Monday, at the Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs, the second annual TEDx Martha’s Vineyard presented writers, performance artists, chefs, public defenders, and a local man who just swam around the Island — all of them exploring the theme “New Frontiers.”

The independently organized TED event takes its format from the global organization’s method of spreading ideas in the form of short, powerful talks.

According to, TED began in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment, and design converged, and today the events cover almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events, like the one on Martha’s Vineyard, help share ideas in communities around the world.

This year the Island version, organized by Katy Plasse and Maggie Bryan, featured a diverse, well-curated list of speakers sharing their ideas on topics from social media to social justice, from philanthropy to food advocacy, and more.

After doors opened at 1:30, speakers had 18 minutes each. In the first segment, James Moody, a former public defender for the state of Florida, seemed to touch a nerve with the audience when he spoke about flaws within our criminal justice system: When the state does not let jurors know what a crime’s penalty might be, they are left unable to fully decide how a felony conviction would impact someone’s life.

Jeffrey Deskovic, who heads his eponymous Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, shared a story of his own wrongful conviction for raping and killing a 16-year-old girl. After he served 16 years, his conviction was vacated, with the help of DNA evidence. He now speaks about how society must fight for changes in policing to avoid such tragedies in the future.

Dean Bragonier, who this summer swam around the Vineyard in two-mile segments to raise money for dyslexia, reminded the audience of the many struggles a dyslexic child faces, and that school curricula can be changed to focus on a child’s abilities, rather than his disabilities. He runs the nonprofit

Asha Gomez and Michael Nischan’s talks touched on how “food is power.” Ms. Gomez is a chef and entrepreneur, and underscored the idea of “Ending Hunger in Our Lifetime” by relating a story of her son, whom she adopted at age 3 from India. “He was the face of malnourishment,” she said of him then, displaying a photo of her now healthy teenager. Mr. Nischan, a food equity advocate, said bringing farmers’ markets to poor communities and teaching these communities about the nutritional value of the vegetables offered for sale can radically improve the diets of families in these areas.

Flatbread Pizza donated pizza for a late-afternoon snack break. After that, the Guggenheim Museum director of digital marketing, Jia Jia Fei, spoke about the importance of sharing art on social media as a way to expand the audience for art. Social media, she said, are changing the way we experience art, a theme echoed by Vogue writer Antwaun Sargent, who showed the work of artists who created works — “#blackartmatters” — around the theme that black lives matter.

In the end, Julie Anne McNary, executive director of the Permanent Endowment of Martha’s Vineyard, shared some startling facts: that the cost of living is higher for Islanders than for New Yorkers; that a family with one child needs an income of $86,000 to survive on Martha’s Vineyard. Along with stressing the importance of local philanthropy, she urged the audience to find a way to coordinate among other Islanders to find ideas for making our Island an easier place to live and thrive.