Merry Band Of Mentshes
Five years ago, I joined a small group of networkers in Detroit. These folks were the cream of the crop; the group was invite-only, and focused on true business and personal growth. For the most part, I still have a close personal relationship with each member of the group.
Two of the members, Terry Bean of Networked Inc. and Charlie Wollborg of Curve Detroit Marketing, taught me a lot. Terry taught me most of what I know about networking and relationship building, and Charlie taught me about marketing myself and being memorable. Charlie referred to our group as his “Merry Band of Mentshes,” a name that always stuck out in my memory about this crew.
Of all the change and influence that people in this group have brought to Detroit, one of the most impactful was Terry and Charlie bringing the TED conference to Detroit. TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, is an organization based in Silicon Valley that puts on conferences based on “Ideas Worth Spreading,” their tagline. On Friday, Oct. 26, TEDx Detroit was held Downtown for the fourth time, this year at the historic Gem Theater on Madison Avenue.
The Next Gen Of Mentshes
While TED conferences are always inspiring, informative and memorable, this year I felt like Terry and Charlie really went out of their way to highlight a new Merry Band of Mentshes. Here are a few examples:
Presenter Anthony Reale started a company called Strait Power (he redesigned the turbine based on the swimming design of the basking shark). To be truthful, I didn’t understand most of what he said, but it sounded impressive. What caught my attention was when he put a slide on the screen with the names of 131 people who, to date, have helped him get this far. I have never seen someone give so much specific credit to one’s journey during a presentation.
Neil Greenberg, a native Detroiter, moved to California to become a map designer for mass transit systems. He moved back to Detroit to start the Freshwater Railway, a company that can design and implement a mass transit system to connect the tri-county area. More important, they aim to educate people about the possibilities of mass transit.
During Neil’s presentation, which may have been one of the most animated of the day, he was having trouble with his presentation and couldn’t get it to go back to the previous slide. In frustration, he said, “It looks like I can only go forward, but can’t go back.”
It was awkward and we felt a little bad for him, but then, through a moment of clarity, he said, “Maybe there is a reason for that; it must be a sign.”
There was a simple wisdom in what he said, as if his words also referred to Detroit and the world. It may have been just me, but I believe he straightened everyone’s backbone with that comment.
Motor City Innovators
Andrae Townsel is a self-proclaimed “kid from the streets of Detroit.” He gained some notoriety over the last few years after producing and starring in a music video called City of Gold, a song about all the positive aspects of Detroit. He is a professional football player and was just signed to the Washington Redskins after playing college ball at Howard University in Washington, D.C. At Howard, Andrae got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and is currently on track to receive a doctorate in educational administration and policy.
Andrae has thrown his hat in the ring as candidate for mayor of Detroit. He is running his campaign as someone who wants to do what’s best for the people of Detroit.
He stood up, thanked everyone for giving him the honor of letting him speak, and then spouted a six-minute spoken word poem that he wrote about growing up in Detroit and accomplishing great things. The room was silent until he finished and then erupted in applause. It was amazing, emotional and truthful.
Noah Kaplan is a native New Yorker who moved to Ann Arbor to go to art school. He started a small custom speaker company called Leon Speakers. While describing the evolution of his business, he spoke about the inspirations he’d had over the years that have shaped the company. Noah, as do most business owners, speaks about his company with a level of confidence that is almost infectious.
He has a lot to be proud of as he is building a top-of-the-line product that sells for thousands of dollars; yet, his personal approach is so down to earth and humble. I have never seen someone manage to balance those two sides of a personality. He and I spoke during the lunch break, and he spent more time talking about how lucky he was to have his people and his business than he did talking about how great his product is.
For me, the most impactful speaker was Carlo Sweeney, another native Detroiter who grew up in a rough neighborhood. His school teacher told him that by age 21 he was likely to be dead or in jail, part of a cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies to which Carlo fell victim. After serving his time, he was determined to change that cycle by “empowering kids to be champions.”
Carlo created the Downtown Boxing Gym in 2005 and went to work changing lives. Hundreds of kids have been mentored, trained and tutored in both boxing and schoolwork at Carlo’s facility. Today, in order to get in the ring, your homework must be done, and you need to keep your grades up. You might think this would turn kids off from wanting to participate, but Carlo said that almost 100 percent of the students in his program graduate high school on time. In a city whose graduation rate is the highest it has been in years, now at 62 percent, the Downtown Boxing Gym numbers are staggering.
Carlo said it as if we shouldn’t be surprised. “Of course most kids are supposed to graduate! We aren’t just creating champions; we are molding them into great people,” he said.
Their boxing record is quite impressive as well. The top 10 boxers at the gym are all nationally ranked in the top 10 of their respective weight class. Carlo talked about the community of parents that have become inspired as well. If one parent can’t drive, another parent covers the carpool. If someone in the gym is sick, others go to check on them. It is a real community, a family, a place where people go to learn and grow. His results are unprecedented. Carlo is a mentsh creating mentshes, and his presentation left me speechless. The number of lives that are changed because of his inspiration is growing daily and has no reason to slow down.
There is not enough room in this article to go through every amazing presentation. So do yourself a favor, carve out some time and go to www.TED.com, browse through the many videos there of TED speakers. Some names you will recognize; others you’ll be glad to learn. Make sure to connect with the folks at TEDx Detroit so you will know when the 2013 conference takes place. I am sure that Terry Bean, Charlie Wollborg and their crew have no intention of letting the momentum end.
Benji is a commercial real estate broker at Howard Schwartz CRE and runs his website BenjiUnSpun.com.