Empowering Voices: Local Youth Leading Change at TEDxYouth@ChavisWay

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Written by: Diya Bhatia and Manar Bouleqcha

On April 13th, 2024, a small stage awaited its young speakers. This year speakers and performers from the Triangle area in North Carolina presented on a wide range of topics at the the John Chavis Community Center. Excitement filled the room, echoing off the walls with proclamations of the theme, “From Here to Everywhere”. It was a moment of promise, where the eager minds of tomorrow gathered to share, inspire, and ignite change at the TEDxYouth@ChavisWay event through inspiring talks and engaging performances. To put into context, TEDx events are local and self-organized; they aim to spark conversation, connection, and community and share a TED-like experience. While TEDx events feature speakers and performers of all ages, TEDxYouth events are designed specifically for young people with big ideas who are hoping to make an impact in their communities and beyond.

Bright red TEDx letters in front of a large screen.

Organizers and volunteers arrived early to create an engaging event.

Behind the scenes of the event, speakers rehearsed their talks, practicing every word to ensure perfection. Volunteers ran back and forth, taking care of every detail. At its core, TEDxYouth@Chavisway was more than a collection of simple speeches; it was a beacon of hope for a generation yearning for change. The youth participants were one of the many reasons for inspiration. From how to build a more accessible world for visually impaired people to what AI can do for sports, the topics presented were as diverse as the individuals who shared them. Indeed, TEDxYouth@Chavisway amplified and celebrated young people’s ideas on a shining stage. 

Young person gives a TEDx Talk.

Anvita Anaja delivered a powerful and engaging talk on the roots of restorative justice.

Among the highlights of the event was Anvita Anaja, a junior at Panther Creek High School in Cary, North Carolina, who spoke about restorative justice. Anaja’s passionate stance on this topic was inspired by participating as a youth attorney in the Raleigh Youth Court where she listened to moving stories from people of all backgrounds. Due to some of Anaja’s experiences, such as volunteering at local non-profits and understanding the justice system, she explains a big misconception about restorative justice: “A lot of people believe restorative justice is like a slap on the wrist for kids who are committing crimes, but in reality it is helping our youth learn from their mistakes.” She believes that hopefulness is a trait that can help youth learn from their mistakes, regardless of the crimes they have committed. Throughout her speech, Anaja emphasized that students who exhibit violent behaviors or actions can be quite misunderstood, and it is important to make sure that their stories are properly represented. 

Young person delivers as TEDx Talk.

High school senior Justin Lee shares why understanding music history makes for better music listening.

Another memorable moment came from Justin Lee, a homeschooled senior in high school. Lee is an interdisciplinary learner who plays the trumpet and focused on music history. Lee explains his stance on his captivating topic of choice: “Music history is not something taught in depth, and some believe that you can understand a piece of music without its backstory. In reality, the two are so connected. When broken apart, it’s very difficult to understand the music without its history; they fit together like a matching puzzle piece.” Being homeschooled, Lee explains that the line between curricular and extracurriculars is blurred. He further explains that his growing up as a natural public speaker stemmed from watching TED talks in school and partaking in extracurriculars such as mock trials. He states his advice to other students hoping to share their thoughts publicly: “Don’t establish a prim attitude, act polished, or be formal. Allow your passion for a topic to flow through your words and let your interests take hold of the things you say.” 

Youth stand in front of TEDx letters.

From left: Co-hosts Nyawira Nyota, Anandhi Selvaraju, and Niko Wiguna and authors Diya Bhatia and Manar Bouleqcha.

Besides just interviewing speakers, we spoke to co-hosts such as Niko Wiguna, a junior at Green Level High School, who eagerly invests his passion and time into hip-hop dance and volunteering around his local community. Fascinated by the minds of fellow youth, he aspires to become a pediatric psychologist. Wiguna, a former speaker in 2023, talked about having hip-hop dance as an anchor to deal with the stress of college applications and highschool experiences. This year, Wiguna had the role of being a co-host. He explains, “Being co-host is more about helping the speakers foster confidence and excitement because it’s so important to have those feelings before speaking.” Wiguna strives to uplift others and help his community with positivity and humor.

Maru Gonzalez, an organizer of TEDxYouth@Chavisway, assistant professor, and extension specialist at North Carolina State University has had the opportunity to work with young people in a variety of capacities. Inspired by their ideas, she was motivated to organize this event in collaboration with her fellow NC State colleague Dr. Christy Byrd, Wake County 4-H, and Alliance Health. She explains, “Young people benefit socially, emotionally, and academically when they are given a platform to share their ideas — especially on a prominent platform such as TEDx. Communities also benefit from listening to and learning from young people’s insights and experiences.” Gonzalez hopes to continue growing TEDxYouth@ChavisWay, to ensure the youth speakers and performers have an even greater impact in the Triangle and beyond. 

As the audience reflected on what TEDxYouth@ChavisWay meant to them, they were inspired to take action and make a difference in the community. One watcher emphasized how TEDx could foster an environment where diverse perspectives are not only welcomed but celebrated. Riley Holcroft, a youth development coordinator and TEDxYouth@ChavisWay organizer, talks about her inspiration to get involved. She states, “I found this opportunity because I’m passionate about community engagement, especially in food and youth spaces.” This year, Holcroft had the chance to be a coach for one of the speakers, Claire Eveson, who spoke about urban gardening. Holcroft describes,  “It was really cool to connect with Claire about a shared passion and help her with her talk” Holcroft plans to rejoin the TEDx team next year. 

Young speaker delivers a TED talk

Amaris Iwara discussed how small actions can resonate on a global scale.

Personally, our experience will stick with us. Thinking back to the first speaker we interviewed, Amaris Iwara, we were struck by her aura of confidence and passion. As she spoke about her topic, The Butterfly Effect, we gained a deeper understanding of the message she hoped to carry not only on the stage, but also throughout life. Day to day, we see people that we couldn’t imagine raising their voice in a silent setting suddenly expressing themselves with passion and eloquence. The amazing ideas presented demonstrate how important it is to have a platform like TEDxYouth@Chavisway. Looking ahead, the impact of TEDx is sure to extend far beyond the John Chavis Community center, as attendees carry the ideas and inspiration with them into their daily lives and communities. The success of this event is credit to the organizers, and we anticipate returning again next year, reinforcing the significance of sharing ideas and fostering connections.