3 Things I Learned at TEDx Philly

Did you know half of all U.S. presidents are firstborns?

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey speaking at the TEDx conference in Philadelphia. (Meredith Edlow)

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey speaking at the TEDx conference in Philadelphia. (Meredith Edlow)

TEDx Philadelphia kicked off at Temple University Thursday with 14 speakers from a variety of backgrounds. I learned quite a bit, but here are three things that stuck out.

Prisons Called “Modern-Day Plantations”

Jesse Krimes got arrested for cocaine, refused to snitch and ended up as a non-violent offender in a federal prison filled with some of the most violent criminals in the country. To pass the time and exercise his mind, he made art out of soap, newspapers and prison bedsheets. It got lots of attention, and he’s emerging in the art world. Now a free man, he’s working on the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania. (Check out his thought-provoking work here.)

While in prison, he couldn’t help but notice that inmates were paid 23 cents per hour making products for Unicor, a company with $471 million in total revenue in 2014.

“It’s a modern-day plantation,” he said, “but instead of cotton, we now produce sheets, curtains, desks, chairs, plaques, apparel, electronics and even solar panels.”

Presidents are Usually Firstborns

Some people are born to rich families in suburban Philadelphia. Others are born in the middle of war zones. It’s something you just don’t have any control over.

The idea of the birth lottery has been a lifelong intrigue of Yasmine Mustafa, who lived in Kuwait with her family when the first Gulf War began in the early 1990s. She found herself terrified in a crowded bomb shelter. Soon after, American soldiers removed her and her family because her brother was an American citizen. He was born in the United States while her parents were visiting. By pure luck, the birth lottery freed the family from harm.

Fast forward to present day and Mustafa is a successful entrepreneur and founder of ROAR for Good, a self-defense wearable technology company aimed at diminishing attacks against women.

Still, she can’t help but find herself intrigued by the birth lottery, and offered some amazing statistics about “firstborns.”

“Scientists from around the world found that the order in which you’re born greatly affects your personality and your livelihood,” she said. “More CEOs are firstborns than any other place in birth order. More than half of all Nobel Prize winners and U.S. presidents are firstborns.”

Commissioner Ramsey: “Police Have Not Always Stood on the Right Side of Justice”

The news these days is full of stories about cops behaving badly, with the latest case coming just this week when a Texas police officer went ballistic and drew his gun on a group of teenagers at a pool party.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey called many of the highly publicized instances of police aggression “appalling,” saying that it “affects our ability to build trust in our communities.”

It’s a problem that has deeply resonated for Ramsey, who has turned to historical study to figure out why.

“Who was enforcing the Jim Crow laws of the time? Who did people encounter on Bloody Sunday when they walked across that bridge [in Selma, Ala.]? Police,” he said.

In fact, he recalled the story of his first visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. (where he served as commissioner from 1998 – 2007.) He visited in an official capacity as the commissioner, but the experience “haunted” him. So went back a week later and realized that in many of the images, police officers were working right alongside Nazi soldiers to roundup and kill Jews.

“Police have not always stood on the right side of justice,” said Ramsey.

Now, he’s developed a program with the National Constitution Center to provide training for recruits that takes a broader look at the role of policing in a complex democratic society.

When many officers are asked what their role is, he said a common answer is “to enforce the law.” He’s trying to get them to give a new answer: “To defend the constitutional rights of all people?”