TEDxCUNY 2024: “UNRAVEL” Conference Held at John Jay College

Shemeka Brathwait advocating for a balanced like during her TEDxCUNY talk./Kate Dempsey


By Daniel Afanasyev 


   On April 12, the much anticipated 2024 TEDxCUNY conference returned to John Jay College’s Gerald W. Lynch Theater for a full day of talks, workshops, and events.

   Launched in 2013, TEDxCUNY is an independently-organized and student-run production officially associated with the TEDxTalks organization. The event serves as an arena for the exchange of ideas and innovations within the CUNY community.

   As previously reported by The Vanguard, TEDxCUNY has kept to a distinct theme for each of its conferences. In keeping with that tradition, the theme of this year’s conference was “UNRAVEL,” which sought to “confront the knots in our everyday existence and detangle our perception of reality,” according to its mission statement.

   Dean of Macaulay Honors College, Dara N. Byrne, addressing the attendees, spoke on the theme of the conference, stating that, “It’s in the act of unraveling that we actually find the greatest moments of discovery. It’s only by unraveling that we can truly hope to understand, to grow, to question, and to thrive in an ever-changing world.”

   Many of the speakers included some of Brooklyn College’s own faculty, including program director Shemeka Brathwait, a spoken word artist who focuses on balancing work, life, and activism. After landing her dream job in fashion design, Shemeka’s vision for the future quickly turned sour after experiencing long work hours and lack of satisfaction in her work, which threatened to “unravel” her under its conditions. 

   “In that era of trying to be superwoman I became burnt out, and this isn’t a fleeting fatigue, but more like a lingering that becomes a catalyst for a major transformation,” she said. “I needed to learn how to prioritize myself and to find work that was fulfilling to do on a daily basis.”

   Shemeka shared her advice to the crowd by sharing her story of giving back to her local community, and thinking of how best to live and work while simultaneously serving it. During her talk, Shemeka introduced a roadmap for impactful community service called “PLAN,” an acronym that stands for “productivity, leverage, accommodate, and navigate.” Community service is an activity that every person can incorporate into their daily life if one strategically goes about it, which can positively reflect one’s life and work. 

   “If you take small steps towards taking action, it will lead to a major impact that you’re able to do, and as you sow together pockets of the little free time that you have, you can weave together a creation of wonderful opportunities,” she told the crowd.

   BC’s Carolina Rosa Martinez, program coordinator for the Peer Mentoring Program, was another speaker at the conference. In her talk, she discussed the rediscovery of her identity and heritage through her college education while researching Caribbean folklore. The first examples of mythology that are often thought of are the Greek, Roman, or Norse, but mythology’s existence in the Caribbean is rarely ever considered, and its folklore continues to remain largely foreign to many.

   It was through a literature of African diaspora class Carolina took at BC that she first learned of Caribbean mythology, which prompted her to learn about her own people and culture. Carolina, witnessing Caribbean mythology’s obscurity and lack of comparison with the world’s other mythologies, undertook a thesis during her last year at BC researching the history of the Dominican oral tradition. 

   “In the process of this research I learned so much about Dominican oral tradition, also about Caribbean mythology, and I felt more acquainted with a culture that I come from. This research helped me understand that I can go from an idea to an actual project that holds cultural significance, and the power behind that knowledge allowed me to find my voice and use it,” she said.

   Reflecting on the experience of researching her cultural identity helped Carolina find belonging in her identity, sharing with the crowd that taking initiative to discover something new can be a continually rewarding experience.

   Even as college students face a chaotic world full of “knots,” TEDxCUNY hoped to inspire students through educators so that they too can make a difference. To speakers of the event, the goal of education is not just to work towards getting a good grade, it’s about better understanding the world even through all of its complexities. 

   “Education is not just about earning passing grades and eventually a degree,” said Martinez in her concluding remarks. “It is an opportunity to learn things we did not get to learn before and understand more about ourselves, and unravel the many prejudices that are attached to the things that we are interested in learning.”


   More information on 2024’s TEDxCUNY and their past conferences can be found at: https://www.tedxcuny.com/


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