In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized (subject to certain rules and regulations).
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nonviolence activist + authorArun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, was born in Durban, South Africa during the apartheid years. At age12, Arun was taken to India to live with his famous grandfather and learn ways to cope with his anger and violent reactions, having been a victim of color prejudice while growing up. During his time in India, he learned valuable lessons on life next to his grandfather. Arun is now the President of the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute to take the message of nonviolence all over the world and to rescue and train children living in poverty so that they can break the oppressive cycle crushing them. He has also started the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in 1991, based since 2008 at the University of Rochester, NY, which runs programs for inner city children, inmates of correctional facilities and poor families while teaching nonviolence to students.
teacherBrian Edwards is an academic teacher for the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision with 13 years on the job. He suffers from anxiety and depression and isn’t afraid to talk about it. Well, maybe he’s a little nervous. One time, while at a funeral, he heard the person giving the eulogy describe the deceased as “the most genuine person I’ve ever met.” All Brian wants is someone, one day, to say the same thing about him.
artificial intelligence enthusiast + law clerkColin is an unapologetic nerd. He worked diligently in sales until he discovered his love of programming. He is particularly captivated by the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). The eldest of seven children, a former rower and coxswain, Colin currently clerks in the Law Library in Attica
poet + mentorDamoni Hall is a man of integrity and a great encourager to all people. He has attended Alfred State College and Erie Community College, where he studied psychology. Among his many accomplishments since being incarcerated, Damoni is now a clerk in Attica’s Industry Department and an active member in the Youth Association Program. He loves sports, reading, and writing poetry
Zen student + physicianDavid Williams grew up in a small town in Michigan where he completed his B.A. degree in biology before entered Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit and getting his M.D. degree. After finishing his family practice residency at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, MI, he worked for a federally funded rural health organization in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He later moved back to Detroit to work for the Henry Ford Health System in several primary care centers and in the infectious diseases department treating HIV/AIDS patients. In 1999, he moved to New York to work for the Bassett Healthcare System and to be closer to Zen Mountain Monastery where he has been a student since 1996. Since then, he has worked for the University of Rochester Medical Center, the Cayuga Medical Center, the Neighborhood Health Center in Buffalo before taking his present position at Attica.
teacherThe oldest of three children, I experienced the true blessing of being raised by devoted and loving parents who instilled in us three critical attributes. The first being absolute reverence for our Polish heritage. Second, the often underappreciated ability to connect with others on an emotional and intra-personal level ,as well as the life lesson that if you are good to people, they will be good to you. During a parochial, public, and now correctional teaching career that has spanned 20 years, I have worked to hone these attributes not only to celebrate my Polish heritage, but also to try to brighten the future of others. The winding road that I have traveled has been filled with incredible highs and soul crushing lows, yet it is these experiences that have helped me realize how critical suicide awareness has become and how a once taboo subject has shaped my life and the person I have become.
youth mentor + writer + activistJohn Tolliver is more than the “Criminal” he was once regrettably known as in the streets of Buffalo, N.Y. He is no longer robbing the world or even himself of his full potential. At 16, armed with his GED, he dropped out of college—this was the first in a series of bad decisions that eventually led to him being incarcerated for 25 years to life. On both sides of the bars, he has sought to encourage youth to remain in school and not replicate his mistakes. While incarcerated, John has earned a certificate as a legal assistant/paralegal from the Blackstone Career Institute and has spent over seven of his years in Attica working with the Inmate Grievance Program. The father of three awesome boys, John constantly strives to improve and to live as a contributing member of a healthy society.
singer/songwriter + musicianMark Pelfrey is a songwriter/musician who has played for small venues and written numerous songs over the years. He taps into and uses his unique life struggles to create art. He takes as his motto: “It’s never too late to change, to be better today than yesterday, or to help others, even if just with a smile.” Mark is a simple man who loves the outdoors. He grew up rough and made some bad life choices, but Mark stands today as a changed man.
poet + actorMichael has been incarcerated since the age of 23. He is now 58. Michael’s endeavor to reconnect to his humanity through the arts finds its roots in the same fertile ground that produced the Harlem Renaissance. Rising from the ashes of his past, he has produced a chapbook of poems entitled, “Guerillas in the Mist.” Michael co-created and co-founded the Phoenix Players Group at Auburn Prison. He also initiated a domestic violence prevention program while at Auburn. At Attica, he created and co-founded the 3rd Prison from the Sun Theater Group. Michael obtained his associates degree in Arts and Humanities from the Cornell Prison Education Program.
artist + mentorPhil never expected that incarceration would give him a second chance for a life worth living and happiness. While incarcerated at Attica, he became an accomplished artist/designer. His painting Art, In Cell Window Perspective, received the Best Donated Work award for the Crime Victims Fund Exhibition and the prestigious 1990 Rochester Finger Lakes Exhibition. He has also created numerous murals throughout the Attica Correctional Facility. In 2013, he started the Attica Active Veterans Group’s Kite Artwork Team and its Knitting Squad. When thinking of the harm he has caused, Phil is grateful to be able to use his artistic talent in prison to lift people's spirits and help raise funds for community causes. He is an Eagle Scout and received an Honorable discharge after serving seven years in the U.S. Coast Guard and three years in the C.G. Reserve as a 1st Class Petty Officer Damage Controlman. Phil just celebrated his 25th anniversary with his wife, Kathy.
comedianRick Matthews was born and raised in Western New York. Taking what that region has taught him, he is hard working, gritty, and destined to be in second place. His family, past, and full-length mirror provide him with all the material he needs to fuel his relatable brand of humor that keeps audiences laughing. He has toured around the country with Jim Norton, and has performed in numerous clubs, casinos, colleges, and festivals throughout the U.S. He is also the creator of the hit "Comics Against Humanity" show, based on the popular card game "Cards Against Humanity," which is now featured at other Helium locations around the country. Rick teaches both introductory and advanced stand-up comedy classes at Helium Comedy Club.
authors + activists + podcaster + filmmakerCo-authors of "Just Sit: A Meditation Guidebook for People Who Know They Should But Don't" and sisters-in-law, Sukey and Elizabeth Novogratz have been leading meditation workshops through the United States. Elizabeth recently launched the podcast "Species Unite" and lives in Brooklyn, NY. Sukey is the executive producer of the acclaimed documentary The Hunting Ground. Together, Elizabeth and Sukey have travelled the world to study meditation in every kind of classroom, from Lakota sweat lodges to Tibet House, from ashrams to vision quests to Oneness retreats. They have learned from many renowned teachers, including Sharon Salzberg, Krishna Das, Ram Dass, Amma, and the monks at One World Academy in Chennai, India. Their inspiration for writing this book is drawn from friends, readers, and complete strangers who echoed their own questions about how to take the first steps toward making meditation part of a more mindful, reflective, and joyful life.
former Governor of Virginia + author + entrepreneurTerry McAuliffe served as Governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018. He also served as Chair of the National Governors Association from 2016 to 2017 and Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005. During his term as Governor, the unemployment rate in Virginia dropped from 5.4% to 3.6% and initial unemployment claims fell to a 44 year low. By the end of his term, McAuliffe had restored voting rights for 173,000 released felons, more than any governor in U.S. history. He also issued more pardons than any Governor in Virginia history and reduced the state’s population in state-operated Juvenile Correctional Centers by nearly two-thirds. His new New York Times best-selling book, Beyond Charlottesville: Taking a Stand Against White Nationalism, describes the tragic events at the "Unite the Right" rally that resulted in the deaths of three people in Charlottesville, Virginia during his governorship.
Anthony F. MackiewiczOperations
Jay Anthony PaganTeam member