Speakers at the fall TEDx San Antonio event on Saturday explored ways toward more effective leadership and how people can use creativity and innovation to improve their lives and community.

Held for the first time inside the Witte Museum’s Mays Family Center, TEDx San Antonio had 18 guest speakers discussing life-changing experiences and new angles on established ideas.

Troy Peters, music director of Youth Orchestras of San Antonio, immediately grabbed everyone’s attention to kick off the daylong event. Surrounded by Youth Orchestras members, Peters tapped his baton on a podium.

YOSA Music Director Troy Peters conducts the orchestra during Abbey Road Live. Photo by Scott Ball.
YOSA Music Director Troy Peters conducts the orchestra during Abbey Road Live at the Tobin in Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

He told hundreds of attendees that a conductor does not tap a baton, contrary to what is shown on television and film.

“You can break a perfectly good baton and these things are expensive,” he quipped.

Peters acknowledged that the job of a music conductor is a mystery to many people. Some people ask, “If musicians are skilled enough to play classical music live, is there a need for a conductor?”

Peters guided his musicians though a handful of quick performances of the same piece of a composition, and showed that a conductor helps to provide “invaluable insight on how to lead our teams more effectively” and how members can collaborate.

A conductor, like a leader of practically any organization or campaign, can predict the movement of the orchestra, or participating members, but “great leadership isn’t about being the rock star,” Peters said. “We should personify the results you want.”

San Antonio being a “City on the Rise,” and its growing potential, was a theme for speakers such as Jason Straughan, co-founder of Grok Interactive and Codeup.

San Antonio has demonstrated that it’s a prime place for a new economy, a growing creative class, fresh culinary concepts, and world-class events, Straughan said.

The rise of local high-tech companies and organizations such as Geekdom can be partially attributed to pioneering business leaders, he added, such as those who launched Datapoint Corp. in the 1970s.

The arrival of events such as Maverick Music Festival and educational venues such as Culinary Institute of America has made San Antonio more visible to music and cuisine fans and aspiring entrepreneurs.

The Maverick Music Festival attracted hundreds of attendees to the La Villita stages. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
The Maverick Music Festival attracted hundreds of attendees to the La Villita stages. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

But everyone, from entrepreneurs to patrons, has a role to play in the growth of these and other local industries, Straughan said.

“If we want to continue benefiting from this, we must follow and emulate the spirit of adventure that comes with these pioneers,” he said.

TEDx allowed Mayor Ivy Taylor to indulge in one of her personal passions — reading. She talked about how books can help define the course of one’s life.

Mr. Pine’s Purple House was the first book she read as a child. It was about a man who decided his home should stand out from the blandness of his surrounding neighborhood.

“It showed it was okay to be different and to express yourself,” Taylor said.

The book Native Son, about a young, poor black man growing up in 1930s Chicago, influenced Taylor in her college years. So did the death of rapper Tupac Shakur in the 1990s.

The book and Shakur’s death further demonstrated to Taylor the difficulties that a young person of color faces in America, no matter the generation.

It’s one of the reasons why Taylor accepted President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper challenge. It’s a campaign, held in communities nationwide, to help males of color to find ways to improve their lives and their neighborhoods.

“As a minority majority city, the outcomes and trajectories of minority males will impact the future of the city,” she said.

Being a city planner by trade, Taylor said in more recent years she’s been drawn to books about urban planning and revitalization. Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser is one of her favorite recent books.

Taylor said books like this help to show it is possible to introduce things like the S.A. Tomorrow plan to better connect people in a growing city, and to increase their opportunities toward prosperity.

“I’m looking forward to executing some of the ideas related to sustainability proposed in the book by Edward Glaeser,” she said.

Taylor said, in general, books help people to find common ground on different issues and topics, and expose them to fresh perspectives. She urged people to read whatever they can, share books, and start or join a book club – like the Mayor’s Book Club.

“Be part of making San Antonio a city that reads, connects each other through books, and connects us to a brighter future,” she added.

Innovation and health were the theme for speakers Ethan Aldrich, Dr. Esteban Lopez and Dr. Lindsay Bira.

As founder of UNIT Innovations, Aldrich said technology gaps aren’t just defined as people not having the latest, greatest mobile device or low-income individuals lacking online access.

It’s institutions and businesses that inexplicably remain stuck with outdated technology. Among other things, Aldrich has built software to help prisons to modernize their systems.

As a result, staffers at client prisons find their file maintenance more user-friendly, and inmates are better served. Aldrich said in some cases, prison systems simply did not know of the technological opportunities that exist to help them.

“Let’s build solutions that bridge technology gaps, bring opportunities to the poor, bring health care solutions,” Aldrich said. “All we had to do was remove the ‘I don’t know’ for these people.”

Dr. Lopez, chief medical officer for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, said health inequality is more than just low-income people not having access to basic health care. Lopez explained social behavior such as racial bias has been found as impacting people’s health, especially African-Americans and Latinos.

Studies show that racial bias, even in the form of such things as police “stop and frisk” practices, can raise levels of cortisol, a steroid hormone released in response to stress.

Lopez said health care practitioners can help, in part, by recognizing racial bias and health inequality as factors that can harm a person’s health.

Dr. Bira, a local clinical health psychologist, treats post-traumatic stress syndrome at STRONG STAR, the world’s largest consortium for PTSD.

Even through personal experience, Bira learned that being counter-intuitive — doing the opposite of what feels right — can help a person to face their fears.

Bira recalled when she was in college. A man broke into her apartment as she slept. She awoke and screamed, scaring off the intruder.

While not physically harmed, Bira felt traumatized for years afterward, even to the point of sleeping with a hammer underneath her pillow or propping a chair up against her door overnight.

Eventually, Bira stopped those practices, to face her fear. She said anxiety, anger and survival instincts, while natural, can become an impediment if they linger and build up.

“Get counter-intuitive,” she said. “Welcome the worst of your thoughts and get through them to reach lasting change.”

For the first time, TEDx San Antonio facilitated pop-up talks, or mini-presentations, from a few select registrants who proposed a brief idea prior to Saturday’s program.

TEDx attendees mingle at the Witte Museum grounds during a snack break.
TEDx attendees mingle at the Witte Museum grounds during a snack break. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

Programming Committee Chairman Chris Sandoval said if feedback was positive enough, any of the select pop-up speakers would be considered for the main stage in a future TEDx San Antonio. These speakers addressed a small lunchtime audience in the amphitheater outside the Mays Center.

Fiona Burmeister-Morton was one such speaker. She explained her passion for science turned into the blog Science in San Antonio.

The blog includes her interviews with local women scientists. Burmeister-Morton hopes the blog inspires girls toward a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) career.

“It’s not just about women doing awesome science in San Antonio, but about women who are succeeding in a male-dominated field,” she said.

Making the most of community spirit was a theme for local photographer Sarah Brooke Lyons and Rob Wicall, who served as the Spurs’ Coyote for several years.

Lyons recalled how her popular “1005 Faces” project unfolded. She took black and white photos of 1,005 San Antonians, each in the same light, holding up a sign that simply summarized their personality or life philosophy.

Though the project, Lyons met people of all backgrounds and ages. She got better acquainted with San Antonio’s diverse, optimistic, close-knit community. The project also made her appreciate life more as she strived towards sobriety.

“This positivity isn’t what I expected, it’s what I needed,” Lyons said. “This is what community does for each other and we all need each other.”

Wicall said his job as the popular Spurs mascot was more than just about getting and keeping fans excited during a game or some other public appearance.

He found his antics and exchanges with fans as having a positive, lasting impact on people. This includes literally eliciting a smile and a laugh from sick children he’d visit as The Coyote in hospitals.

Wicall said being so authentic can strengthen personal and professional relationships.

“You can either go through the motions or you can listen to people, let them know they matter,” he said. “It makes you authentic.”

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.