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TEDWomen 2017

Cleo Wade: Want to change the world? Start by being brave enough to care

Filmed:
1,461,730 views

Artist and poet Cleo Wade recites a moving poem about being an advocate for love and acceptance in a time when both seem in short supply. Woven between stories of people at the beginning and end of their lives, she shares some truths about growing up (and speaking up) and reflects on the wisdom of a life well-lived, leaving us with a simple yet enduring takeaway: be good to yourself, be good to others, be good to the earth. "The world will say to you, 'Be a better person,'" Wade says. "Do not be afraid to say, 'Yes.'"

- Artist, poet, author
Cleo Wade creates uplifting messages, blending simplicity with positivity and arresting honesty. Full bio

My best friend recently had a baby.
00:12
And when I met him,
00:17
I was in awe of witnessing this tiny,
beautiful being enter into our lives.
00:18
I also had this realization
that he wasn't just entering our lives,
00:25
he was entering the world --
00:30
this crazy world that, especially now,
feels so incredibly challenging.
00:33
I spend a lot time in my work
talking to people about who we are,
00:39
who we must be
00:44
and what our healing looks like.
00:45
So the first time I held him,
00:48
I had my pep talk ready.
00:50
You know, I wanted him to know
that the way we find our strength
00:52
is through our challenges.
00:56
I wanted him to know
that we can all do something big
00:58
when we start small.
01:01
I wanted him to know
that each of us is more resilient
01:02
than we could ever imagine.
01:05
So here I am holding little Thelonious.
01:08
I look down at him,
01:11
and it hits me:
01:13
he's a baby.
01:15
(Laughter)
01:17
He's not going to understand
a single word I say to him.
01:18
So instead, I thought
it would probably be a better idea
01:22
if I went home and wrote.
01:24
So, this is for grownups,
01:26
but it's also for Thelonious,
01:28
when he's old enough to read it:
01:32
The world will say to you,
01:36
"Be a better person."
01:39
Do not be afraid to say, "Yes."
01:42
Start by being a better listener.
01:45
Start by being better
at walking down the street.
01:49
See people.
01:52
Say, "Hello."
01:53
Ask how they are doing
and listen to what they say.
01:55
Start by being a better friend,
01:59
a better parent,
a better child to your parents;
02:01
a better sibling, a better lover,
a better partner.
02:04
Start by being a better neighbor.
02:07
Meet someone you do not know,
and get to know them.
02:10
The world will say to you,
02:15
"What are you going to do?"
02:17
Do not be afraid to say,
02:19
"I know I can't do everything,
02:21
but I can do something."
02:24
Walk into more rooms saying,
02:27
"I'm here to help."
02:29
Become intimate with generosity.
02:31
Give what you can give,
and do what you can do.
02:34
Give dollars, give cents, give your time,
02:37
give your love,
02:40
give your heart, give your spirit.
02:41
The world will say to you,
02:45
"We need peace."
02:48
Find your peace within,
02:51
hold it sacred,
02:54
bring it with you everywhere you go.
02:56
Peace cannot be shared
or created with others
02:59
if we cannot first generate it within.
03:03
The world will say to you,
03:06
"They are the enemy."
03:07
Love enough to know
03:10
that just because someone
disagrees with you,
03:11
it does not make them your enemy.
03:14
You may not win an argument,
03:17
you may not change a mind,
03:18
but if you choose to,
03:20
you can always achieve
the triumph of radical empathy --
03:22
an understanding of the heart.
03:27
The world will say to you,
03:31
"We need justice."
03:33
Investigate.
03:36
Find truth beyond
the stories you are told.
03:38
Find truth beyond the way things seem.
03:42
Ask, "Why?"
03:45
Ask, "Is this fair?"
03:46
Ask, "How did we get here?"
03:48
Do this with compassion.
03:51
Do this with forgiveness.
03:53
Learn to forgive others.
03:56
Start by truly learning
how to forgive yourself.
03:59
We are all more than our mistakes.
04:03
We are all more
than who we were yesterday.
04:06
We are all deserving of our dignity.
04:09
See yourself in others.
04:13
Recognize that your justice is my justice,
04:15
and mine is yours.
04:18
There can be no liberation for one of us
if the other is not free.
04:19
(Applause)
04:25
The world will say to you,
04:28
"I am violent."
04:30
Respond by saying,
04:33
"I am not.
04:34
Not with my words
and not with my actions."
04:36
The world will say to you,
04:41
"We need to heal the planet."
04:42
Start by saying, "No, thank you.
I don't need a plastic bag."
04:44
Recycle, reuse.
04:48
Start by picking up
one piece of trash on your block.
04:50
The world will say to you,
04:55
"There are too many problems."
04:57
Do not be afraid
to be a part of the solutions.
05:00
Start by discussing the issues.
05:03
We cannot overcome what we ignore.
05:06
The more we talk about things,
05:10
the more we see
that the issues are connected
05:12
because we are connected.
05:15
The world will say to you,
05:18
"We need to end racism."
05:20
Start by healing it in your own family.
05:22
The world will say to you,
05:26
"How do we speak to bias and bigotry?"
05:27
Start by having the first conversation
at your own kitchen table.
05:30
The world will say to you,
05:36
"There is so much hate."
05:39
Devote yourself to love.
05:41
Love yourself so much
that you can love others
05:44
without barriers and without judgment.
05:48
When the world asks us big questions
that require big answers,
05:51
we have two options.
05:56
One: to feel so overwhelmed
or unqualified, we do nothing.
05:58
Two: to start with one small act
and qualify ourselves.
06:02
I am the director of national security,
06:08
and so are you.
06:11
Maybe no one appointed us
and there were no senate confirmations,
06:14
but we can secure a nation.
06:18
When you help just one person
to be more secure,
06:20
a nation is more secure.
06:24
With just one outstretched hand
that says, "Are you OK?
06:26
I am here for you,"
06:30
we can transform insecurity into security.
06:31
We find ourselves saying to the world,
06:36
"What should I do?"
"What should we do?"
06:39
The better question might be:
06:41
"How am I showing up?"
06:43
I ask the world for peace,
06:45
but do I show up with peace
when I see my family and friends?
06:48
I ask the world to end hatred,
06:51
but do I show up with love
not only for those I know,
06:54
but those I don't know?
06:59
Do I show up with love for those
whose ideas conflict with my own?
07:00
I ask the world to end suffering,
07:06
but do I show up for those
who are suffering on my street corner?
07:08
We say to the world,
07:12
"Please change; we need change."
07:13
But how do we show up
to change our own lives?
07:16
How do we show up to change the lives
of the people in our communities?
07:19
James Baldwin said, "Everything now,
we must assume is in our own hands;
07:24
we have no right to assume otherwise."
07:30
This has always been true.
07:33
No one nominated
Harriet Tubman to her purpose,
07:35
to her mission, to her courage.
07:39
She did not say, "I'm not a congressman
07:41
or the president of the United States,
07:43
so how could I possibly participate
in the fight to abolish
07:45
a system as big as slavery?"
07:50
She instead spent 10 years
making 19 trips,
07:52
freeing 300 people,
07:56
one group of people at a time.
07:58
Think about the children
of those 300 people,
08:00
the grandchildren,
the great-grandchildren and beyond.
08:03
Our righteous acts create
immeasurable ripples
08:07
in the endless river of justice.
08:11
Whether it's Hurricane Katrina, Harvey,
Irma or Maria, people did not say,
08:15
"There is so much damage.
What should I do?"
08:21
They got to work on what they could do.
08:24
Those with boats got in their boats
08:27
and started loading in every woman,
man and child they came across.
08:28
Near and far, people gave their dollars,
08:32
they gave their cents,
08:35
they gave their hearts,
08:36
they gave their spirit.
08:38
We spend so much time
08:41
thinking we don't have
the power to change the world.
08:43
We forget that the power to change
someone's life is always in our hands.
08:47
Change-making does not belong
to one group of people;
08:51
it belongs to all of us.
08:56
You don't have to wait
on anyone to tell you
08:59
that you are in this.
09:03
Begin.
09:05
Start by doing what you can
with what you've got,
09:07
where you are
09:11
and in your own way.
09:13
We don't have to be heroes,
09:15
wear a uniform,
09:18
call ourselves activists
09:19
or get elected to participate.
09:21
We just have to be brave enough to care.
09:23
Now, around the time Thelonious was born,
09:28
I went to the birthday party
of a man named Gene Moretti.
09:33
It was his 100th birthday,
09:38
which means he lived in the United States
through the Depression, World War II,
09:41
the struggle for workers' rights,
09:45
the achievement
of a woman's right to vote,
09:47
the Civil Rights Movement,
09:49
a man on the moon, the Vietnam War
09:50
and the election
of the first black president.
09:52
I sat with him, and I said,
09:55
"Gene, you have lived
in America for 100 years.
09:56
Do you have any advice
during these current times?"
10:02
He smiled and said to me simply, "Yes.
10:06
Be good to as many people as possible."
10:09
And as he danced with my mother,
10:14
who is, by the way, half his age,
10:16
in a room full of generations
of his family and hundreds of people,
10:18
many of whom traveled thousands of miles
to be there to celebrate him,
10:23
I realized that he had not
just given me advice,
10:28
he had given me the first step
10:32
that every single one of us
is capable of making
10:34
if we want to create
a real, wholehearted impact
10:37
on the world around us, right now.
10:41
"Be good to as many people as possible."
10:45
Thank you.
10:50
(Applause)
10:51

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About the speaker:

Cleo Wade - Artist, poet, author
Cleo Wade creates uplifting messages, blending simplicity with positivity and arresting honesty.

Why you should listen

Cleo Wade is an artist, poet and author of the forthcoming book Heart Talk: Poetic Wisdom For a Better Life. Her writing, accessible yet empowering, speaks to a greater future for all women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community, preaching love, acceptance, justice, peace, equity and equality.

Wade's artwork is founded on the idea that art should be in the name of all people and should serve all people. This idea has inspired some of her larger scale public art installations, including a 25-foot love poem in the skyline of the New Orleans French Quarter titled "Respect," as well as her follow up piece, "She," which was created in collaboration with graffiti artist Brandon Odums and is permanently installed on the face of a 50-foot warehouse building in the New Orleans Bywater neighborhood. In the summer of 2017, Wade created the "ARE YOU OK" project, a public booth for free, peaceful and loving conversation at the Hester Street Fair in New York City. Her latest public art installation of 10-word mantras on 46-foot screens entitled "Show Love Spread Love" is currently on view in Los Angeles on the facade of the Beverly Center. Other mediums of Wade's art include drawing, painting, sculpture, and neon text. Wade contributes regularly to W magazine and Teen Vogue.

More profile about the speaker
Cleo Wade | Speaker | TED.com