Like many people, my introduction to TED was through watching a powerful talk given by Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu as he accepted the 2009 TED Prize. Jose Antonio Abreu is the charismatic founder of the social development and music education program throughout Venezuela called El Sistema that has transformed hundreds of thousands of kids' lives in Venezuela.
His TED Prize wish was to create a training program for young professional musicians that are passionate about social justice and developing El Sistema inspired programs in the United States and beyond. This was a vision that I wanted to get behind and in my last semester in college, I decided to apply for the Abreu Fellows Program and was accepted to join their inaugural class in the fall of 2009.
The relationship with TED grew over the years as they stayed involved in the development of the Abreu Fellows program. They invited four and my colleagues and myself to present at TED2010 where we introduced our program to the TED community. During that trip, I received our first donation to what would later become Play On Philly. And following my fellowship experience, TED helped to support the documentation of our first two years, which then would become a full length documentary called CRESCENDO: The Power of Music now carried on Netflix.
I was humbled and honored when I received the news in December 2016 that I was selected as a TED Fellow. The experience preparing for the talk was challenging. How would you ever begin to explain eight years of your work in a handful of minutes? After several revisions of the talk, and countless hours of practice, I was sure that I wanted to address the equity issues that our young people face in their development and education.
I shared with the audience what Dr. Abreu once told me: "'Culture for the poor cannot be a poor culture'. That means that we all have the responsibility to help prepare the best instruments for the poorest children, provide the best teachers for the most vulnerable children, and the absolute best musical opportunities to the most marginalized children. And like my mother did for me, we need to sit next to each one of them and help them count their rests and rhythms until they get it."
The TED community embraced our students who performed a beautiful rendition of the Shaker Hymn "Simple Gifts". I found a community who is eager to solve some of the most challenging problems that people across the globe face. The other speakers like Elon Musk, Serena Williams and Al Gore presented very ambitious ideas that could impact the lives of billions of people and disrupt systems that stop diverse societies from advancing.
I didn't leave the big thinking at the Vancouver Convention Center. I look forward to continuing to work with a supportive community in Philadelphia to change the lives of thousands of the city's most vulnerable young people.
Tocar y Luchar!