Ignite Baltimore offers enlightening, if narrow, fuel for thought

MICA's Brown Center filled up early Thursday night with casual Friday-clad 20- and 30-somethings sipping free wine (but seriously, folks—tip your bartenders!) and eating Swiss cheese triangles with vegetables and hummus, waiting to fill all the seats of the auditorium for another edition of Ignite Baltimore. Ignite brings 16 speakers together to speak for 5 minutes each with exactly 20 slides on a topic of their choosing, with the caveats that no one can market themselves or their organization, and you've got to be somewhat interesting. Last night featured a huge variety of presentations, including Jerrie Kumalah's on how to live big with an invisible disability, Andrew Stolbach's argument that Stalin was poisoned, Jon Adler Kaplan and Emmanuel Cephas Jr. on why we should prioritize physical activity—both in PE and math class—Mark Chambers on why we should stop thinking there's an ‘away' to throw things that means we don't actually have to live amidst our trash, and Jess Gertner's helpful tips on what to say to your Air BnB guests for whom being "safe" means not having to see Black people. It was a good night for conversation starters.The format of Ignite makes everyone distill their thoughts into a couple of sips, and that keeps the night moving quickly. At the same time, the format constrains the kinds of arguments that can be made; the insistence on 15-second slides without animation or sound constrains the kind of thinking and communicating that can done, as anyone who has made a PowerPoint presentation can attest. Sure, the format is productive of thought, but it is always of a certain kind. DJ Spooky eschewed the slide format, but that's because, well, he's DJ Spooky. And the 5-minute limit is great, unless you've got a whole lot more questions about renovating one of those Vacants to Value houses, like Shea Frederick's doing.There is also something troubling about sitting in a room with hundreds of people thinking and talking about how to fix some of Baltimore's most pressing problems of educational inequality, poverty, and violence, and the huge majority of the people talking and listening are white, middle class, digitally inclined, and young. This is of course a constant issue in our largely segregated city. Vincent Purcell called this out in his 5 minutes on bringing tech education to the Baltimore's underserved groups. The problem is more than just fairness and equality, though it's about those things, too. It's also that if we don't have all of us—all of our perspectives, ideas, understandings of problems and solutions—we're just not going to get very far. That's going to take a whole lot more than 5 minutes and 20 slides, but Ignite Baltimore was an excellent reminder that if we all get our 5 minutes, we could make some magic. Get your idea together for your 5 at the next Ignite Baltimore.

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