Two locals get ready for their TEDxRVA talks

A former heroin addict and a 16-year-old high schooler will both speak at this Friday’s TEDxRVA.

There will be nearly 30 speakers at this Friday’s sold out TEDxRVA event, including two extraordinary locals: a former addict turned poet and a sophomore at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School.

“I nearly drank myself to death and scorched every bridge, friendship, and financial opportunity that came my way,” said John S. Blake, 42, who lived in New York City before moving to Richmond in 2007. “I was homeless; sleeping on the subway all night, selling poems in parks to eat.”

He nearly overdosed seven years ago.

“I was on a couch, needle in hand, steel tip in the vein when I heard a poem that not only prompted me to stop what I was doing at that moment, but challenged everything I had done up until that very night.” The poem was “Instructions for a Body” by Marty McConnell.1 “I put the syringe on a table in front of me, left the drugs there with it, and walked out never to use again.”

For the past five years, Blake’s co-curated and co-facilitated writing and performance workshops for the Slam Richmond Reading Series.

“At Slam Richmond, we’ve managed to assist in the creative–hence spiritual and emotional–growth of many young Richmond writers; both youth and adults that never considered the possibility of entering the literary world as either an escape from the rigid day-to-day of living or a viable career choice.”

He’s also lectured and taught poetry at juvenile detention centers, high schools, and universities. Last year, he published a full-collection of poetry, Beautifully Flawed. He’s also recently published a chapbook of newer poems, Choices.

Blake said his three minute TEDxRVA talk will be an urgent call for youth poetry in school curricula.

“No one learns unless they want better for themselves,” Blake said. “Everyone needs intimacy with self. Poetry allows not only for verbal and nonverbal communication but introspection. I’ve seen miracles happen with ‘at-risk’ youth that have been fused with poetry.”

Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School sophomore, Noah Kim,2 will also address education in his talk.

“When it all boils down, one good teacher can make a huge impact on any student,” the 16-year-old said. “One good teacher makes all of the difference.”

It was his chemistry teacher, Ms. Jennifer Todd, that underscored this.

“She never forgets what it’s like to be a student,” Noah said about her. “She is so passionate about what she does.” During his talk, Kim said he will discuss “education and the roles that students, teachers, parents, and politicians play in it.”

Kim’s mother, Sarah, believes her son’s involvement in the debate team and improv club has primed him for what even adults would consider to be an intimidating public speaking gig.

“He has always been passionate about things he cares about, and so I guess between his new comfort with public speaking and entertaining, his strong belief in his teachers, and the TEDx platform, a perfect storm was created,” Sarah Kim said.

She’s excited that hundreds will hear her son’s opinions on education.

“It is really all just amazing,” she said.

TEDxRVA takes place this Friday, March 22nd at the Power Plant at Haxall Point.

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  1. The line “praise the veins that river these wrists” caught his attention. The poem continued: “Dream or let your God destroy your good and fertile mind / This is your warning, this / your birthright – Do not let / this universe regret you.” 
  2. Kim’s father is the creator of local KIMKIM hot sauce, Steve Kim. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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