Toledo’s future tied to common vision, less fragmentation

Will Lucas, TEDx curator, kicks off the event Thursday at the Fifth Third building at One SeaGate downtown, promising the audience the ‘talk of their lives.’ The presentations were from speakers from various backgrounds who spoke of shaping Toledo’s future.
Will Lucas, TEDx curator, kicks off the event Thursday at the Fifth Third building at One SeaGate downtown, promising the audience the ‘talk of their lives.’ The presentations were from speakers from various backgrounds who spoke of shaping Toledo’s future.

Toledo is like “an awkward teenager,” a city in transition that suffers from an identity crisis.

So said Will Lucas as he set the stage Thursday for the second TEDx Toledo event in the auditorium of the Fifth Third building at One SeaGate downtown for 265 attendees, many of whom had paid $75 to hear 23 speakers from different walks of life provide thoughts on what should be the city’s vision for the future.

“Toledo will be what you make it,” said Mr. Lucas, an Internet entrepreneur and ProMedica administrative fellow and TEDx curator.

TEDx Toledo is neither your typical symposium, nor is it networking on steroids.

But it’s a unique gathering of would-be visionaries, people from the arts, education, government, sports, social services, manufacturing, food, and other facets of life who dream big and share the simple belief that Toledo needs more synergy and less fragmentation as it remakes itself.

The event is, as Mr. Lucas said, an attempt at “connecting the dots” between traditional business and the more eclectic community.

TEDx goes beyond branding the city as a more upscale product in the digital age.

Its goal is to make people who love Toledo rethink how and why they do, to embrace those intangible fabrics in the city’s soul as they help move the city forward.

“When you hear someone talking negatively about your city, ask yourself what you are doing to make it better,” Mr. Lucas said.

To Sam Melden, Food for Thought executive director, TEDx Toledo is about inspiring people to think outside the box — an important and often-overlooked ability that is hard to quantify. “Inspiration isn’t about measurement,” Mr. Melden said.

TED is an acronym for Technology Entertainment Design. The Toledo version of it is an outgrowth of a national effort that began more than 25 years ago near Silicon Valley, but is now anchored in New York.

Toledo’s is an independent organized event.

For hours Thursday, speakers gave their testimonials on what has given them fierce loyalty to Toledo and what gives them hope that the city’s transition from a manufacturing hub to something with more diversified opportunities remains largely untapped. The order of talks were kept secret. Presenters were limited to 18 minutes.

“We’re all products of the time we’re in,” historian Tedd Long said.

Some rekindled the city’s past for lessons of what made it great years ago, while others encouraged more appreciation of its underrated artists.

Jefferson Nelson was introduced as an artist who puts “passion over paycheck.”

“I believe in autonomy over profit. I believe there is freedom in it,” Mr. Nelson said, explaining how some of his artistic creations are temporary and not intended for commercial sale. “All I have are my passions, my visions, and my naive utopian vision of what could happen.”

Ben Morales, an Instagram artist, gave several examples of how he stood out on the street and matched photos of historic buildings to the outlines of still-existing structures.

“To me, this area is just immersed in beauty. I think you just have to keep your eyes open for it. And underneath it all is history,” Mr. Morales said. “When you can recognize the past and present, the future is ours to create. Is there anything more beautiful than hope and the desire to make things better for future generations?”

Toledo Public Schools interim Superintendent Romules Durant said a positive, collective vision needs to permeate throughout the city so it can do a better job of what he calls “cradle to career coaching.”

Many children start to read in kindergarten. But by third or fourth grade, those who fall significantly behind are already seen as at higher risk for growing up into a life of crime and imprisonment. Children need support from families, not just schools, he said.

“Education cannot be a panacea for social neglect,” Mr. Durant said.

Dave Beckwith, founder of the Great Lakes Institute consulting firm, said he is inspired by three nationally known figures with Toledo ties who have made a difference in countless lives: Geraldine Jensen, founder of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Supports Inc., known as ACES, which works to get more child-support payments; Baldemar Velasquez, founder of the Toledo-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee, known as FLOC, and Barbara Blaine of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

“I know we can say in Toledo there are world shakers, there are difference makers,” Mr. Beckwith said.

Toledo is on the cusp of change. And now’s the opportunity to guide the city along the right path, speakers said.

“I can tell you this: Toledo is ripe for a vision for the future,” former University of Toledo President Dan Johnson said. “We need a collective vision to buy into and embrace.”

Contact Tom Henry at: or 419-724-6079.