December 28, 2016

AN APPRECIATION: Talks, Lectures and Conversations in 2016

Let us now salute more than a dozen major-league hitters I was lucky enough to listen to and learn from in 2016. I do so love a thought-provoking lecture, talk or conversation. These folks knocked it out of the park:


Dr. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, a Harvard powerhouse, on the legacy and lessons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She provided the keynote in January at the annual MLK tribute sponsored by United Planning Organization in Washington, DC.

Hanke Gratteau, a veteran of Chicago journalism who now works as the Director of the Cook County Sheriff's Justice Institute. Hanke's frank and clear talk, at an annual event commemorating the legacy of the great Clarence Darrow, provided an eye-opening look at how Cook County Jail is really America's largest mental health facility.

Master magician Eugene Burger lectured in Milwaukee following a performance at "Two Brothers, One Mind." Eugene's teachings on magic are really lessons for living a good life.

Dr. Sedhill Mullainatham recapped his co-authored book, "Scarcity," at the Ounce of Prevention's annual luncheon. Someday, I would like to ask him about a key question missing from his book and his talk: Why is there poverty in the United States of America?

Every year at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting, legendary investors Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger spend nearly six hours answering unscripted, open-mic questions posed by 40,000 shareholders in the auditorium, a panel of financial experts, and people asking questions through a trio of journalists. The experience offers many insights into the value of making long-term commitments, the value of worrying about your reputation, and the value of seeking value itself.

Dr. Walter Gilliam, from the Yale Child Study Center, spoke at the national Educare network meeting in Atlanta. He provided a riveting -- and revolting -- examination of how U.S. preschoolers are being expelled at an alarming rate: more than three times the rate for children in K-12 grades.

At an event sponsored by Thresholds, Sharon D. Rise described her jaw-dropping journey from the streets of Chicago to her work now as a housing advocate. The mesh between mental health, poverty and racism is the tragically great unaddressed issue of our time, in Chicago and across America.

Malala Yousafzai offered the year's most inspiring remarks because her story is so compelling and her character is so true. Malala spoke to over a thousand people at the Girls, Inc. luncheon in Omaha.

Dr. Howard Stevenson, from Penn, outlined methods for developing and practicing a new basic skill needed in the 21st century: "racial literacy." His powerful presentation was made to several hundred early childhood advocates from across the country who were participating in the Alliance for Early Success meeting in Scottsdale.

Artist Vicky Tesmer offered an engaging, thoroughly entertaining retrospective of her career on a beautiful September evening at the Cliff Dwellers Club here in Chicago.

Three excellent writers -- Christine Sneed, Lori Ostlund and Anne Raeff -- shared an insightful conversation about the similarities and differences of writing short stories and novels. The event was hosted by Women and Children First, one of Chicago's great bookstores.

Speaking at the Erikson Institute annual luncheon, New York Times columnist David Brooks -- the liberals' favorite conservative -- provided a subdued but moving post-election rumination on how early life experiences shape who we become as adults and how we become as a society.

Max Maven -- master mentalist, seasoned performer and total mensch -- rounded out my year with a lecture at Magic., Inc., in Chicago's Ravenswood neighborhood. The fact is I could listen to Max read the phone book and find it utterly fascinating.


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