Light City U Conference Wrap-Up

Weeklong sessions highlight social, tech, and creative innovation.

By Jess Mayhugh. Posted on April 02, 2016, 12:00 pm


Panel featuring, left to right, April Reign, Chris Jeffrey, Chris Wilson, and Gabriel Auteri -Photography by Jess Mayhugh

What might have gotten lost in this past week's spectacle of neon lights, DJ sets, and glowing performance art was the plethora of thought-provoking sessions taking place at the Light City U conferences. Being held at various venues including the Columbus Center and City Garage, the sessions featured some of Baltimore's most high profile individuals including BSO conductor Marin Alsop, former Raven Ray Lewis, actress Sonja Sohn, and police commissioner Kevin Davis. But, maybe even more importantly, the conference also highlighted the city's more lesser known champions, like inmate-turned-businessman Chris Wilson, Baltimore Corps director Fagan Harris, or Thread founder Sarah Hemminger.

Not to mention, the organizers of Light City U practice what they preach by hiring interns from various local organizations featured in the sessions, including Wes Moore's Bridge EDU and Chris Wilson's Barclay Investment Corp. "Individuals from both programs have been our unsung heroes during the planning and execution of Light City U, putting in earlier and later hours than many others," said Rachel Robinson, a co-founder of Intrinsic Events, which is running Light City U. "We couldn't have pulled it off without them."

For this part, 18-year-old Maurice Hill, a student in Moore's Bridge EDU program, a nonprofit that eases the transition between high school and college, said it was an opportunity he didn't want to pass up. Hill worked full days from 7 a.m., helping set up sessions, greet guests, and handle the photo booth. "I've really learned how to present myself, talk to people, and just get my name out there. There are so many chances to make connections," he says. "In fact, I had a big moment today, getting to meet Ray Lewis. He was so cool and down-to-earth . . . I'd really like to learn how to plan events like this some day."

From behind the scenes to on the stage, there was certainly no shortage of inspiring moments. While we couldn't attend every session on the docket (more than 100 hours in total), we managed to make it to quite a few and wanted to share the most compelling highlights from some of the city's most influential change makers.

Balancing the Scales: Safety and Civility
Featuring Kevin Davis, Baltimore Police Commissioner and Joe Jones, CEO, Center for Urban Families

"I thrive in an environment with a degree of crisis to it." -Kevin Davis discussing being in the Baltimore Police Department for merely two months before the Baltimore Uprising following Freddie Gray's death

"Freddie Gray was failed by more than one city agency. We just happened to be the last one." -Kevin Davis


Joe Jones, left, and commissioner Kevin Davis. -Photography by Jess Mayhugh

"For far too long, police have been one dimensional. 2015 taught us public safety cannot be one dimensional." -Kevin Davis discussing BPD's enhancements including more community foot patrol and trauma counseling

"It's such a rare event to be engaged in a civil disturbance—it had been since '68 since we had one. Suddenly, we are now 'experts' in civil disturbances." -Kevin Davis

"The next day I saw the most beautiful thing: Baltimoreans of all colors were cleaning up. They are so many beautiful things happening in Baltimore." -Joe Jones referencing the morning of April 28, 2015

"The anniversary date will come and go. But this systemic issues have been long-standing." -Joe Jones discussing the impending anniversary of Freddie Gray's death and the Baltimore Uprising


Millennials Remaking the Urban Landscape
Featuring John Cammack, Managing Partner of Cammack Associates, Fagan Harris, CEO of Baltimore Corps, and Andrew Yang, Founder and CEO of Venture For America

"Baltimore is more well-positioned than any other city I've seen." -Andrew Yang on the city's startup community and entrepreneurial spirit

"If you view Baltimore as a collection of stats, you're looking at it wrong. It's a collection of opportunities." -Fagan Harris

"Millennials need to feel like Baltimore wants them to be here as much as they want to be in Baltimore." -Fagan Harris

"Do not wait for the government to do it. Get up and do it, and then government will be there to cut the ribbon." -Andrew Yang on starting a business


EdTech Companies Redefining the Future of Learning
Featuring John Cammack, Managing Partner of Cammack Associates, Andrew Cary, VP of Business Development, Cite Lighter, Wes Moore, CEO and Founder of BridgeEdu, Burck Smith, CEO of StraighterLine, and Lida Zlatic, CEO of Class Tracks

"Everybody I've met is ready and willing to help someone newer than they are." -Lida Zlatic on the startup culture in Baltimore

"You can't go around Baltimore and not see how you're needed. You see clearly every day that your participation is necessary." -Wes Moore

"What's unique about Baltimore is that every startup leads with mission." -John Cammack, on startups valuing impact over profit


EdTech panel with, left to right, John Cammack, Lida Zlatic, Burck Smith, Wes Moore, and Andrew Carey. -Photography by Jess Mayhugh

"Baltimore kind of falls victim to a gatekeeper mentality. We are putting far too much power in the hands of far too few." -Wes Moore

"If you want to be serious about the future of Baltimore City, you have to be serious about the future of African-American men." -Wes Moore


Wonder Women: Change Makers + Innovators
Featuring Asha Curran, Director, Center for Innovation and Social Impact at 92Y & Founder, #GivingTuesday, Brooke Hall, Founder of What Works Studio, Vanessa Garrison, Co-Founder and COO at GirlTrek, Jamie McDonald, Founder of Generosity, Inc. and Sonja Sohn, American Actress and Star of The Wire

"If you don't like what you see back in your past, look ahead and build something new." -Brooke Hall

"There are going to be so many forces to detail you in your career. Don't be one of them." -Vanessa Garrison

"Women are multi-tasking wizards. If we connect with what we do, and there is passion for what we do, you're going to see magic." -Sonja Sohn

"We cannot allow our critique of the systems that run this planet to swallow us whole. Of course we can try to move the needle, but we cant get too comfortable with our own oppression." -Sonja Sohn

"Being tough and powerful doesn't mean mimicking men. We can find new ways of leadership." -Vanessa Garrison

"I cannot see your barriers. I cannot hear why you think I can't do what I'm doing. I'm too busy getting stuff done." -Sonja Sohn


Leadership & Place
Featuring Chris Jeffery, CEO Order Up, April Reign, Creator of the hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, Gabriel Auteri (speaking for Dr Leana Wen, Baltimore City Health Commissioner), Chris Wilson, Social Entrepreneur & Founder of Barclay Investment Corporation

"My first day at the health department was April 24, 2015." -Gabriel Auteri, who explained that, after drugstores burned down during the riots, he and Dr. Wen went door-to-door in order to make sure residents had their prescription-medicine needs met

"Trauma is such a deep issue for our city." -Gabriel Auteri, who added that the health department hosted 350 trauma and counseling sessions following the Baltimore Uprising

"You may see a vacant house, but I see an opportunity for construction." -Chris Wilson

"We have to work harder than expected because of the perception of Baltimore." -Chris Jeffrey

"If you give people time off to mentor, to be with family, they are happier at work. If they are happy they'll work harder." -Chris Jeffrey explaining his philosophy behind giving OrderUp employees unlimited paid time off

"We're so focused on job, jobs, jobs, but the job creators need support, too. We need to create better access to credit." -Chris Wilson


Sharing Skills to Advance Communities
Featuring D. Watkins, Author, The Beast Side; Professor, University of Baltimore and Lance Lucas, Founder of Digit All Systems

"You can be in a housing project or be a Trump supporter. We all want the same thing: success." -D. Watkins

"Instead of taking pictures of people's pain, show them how to use the camera." -D. Watkins


Lance Lucas, left, and D. Watkins -Photography by Jess Mayhugh

"We are giving away 500 copies of my book for free, so we can make Baltimore the city that reads again." -D. Watkins

"You never know who you touch with technology." -Lance Lucas, who has been teaching IT courses to disenfranchised communities since 1998


Powering the Future
Featuring Calvin Butler, CEO, BGE, Val Jensen, ComEd, Director of Smart Pole, Gene Rodrigues, Vice President, ICF, Chris Gould, Chief Sustainability Officer, Exelon

"There is going to be more change in the next 10 years in the energy industry then there has been in the past 100." -Chris Gould


Chris Gould speaks at the Powering the Future panel. -Photography by Ron Cassie


Solar for All: Clean Energy, Job Creation, and the New Economy
Featuring Nicole Steele, Executive Director, Grid Alternatives

"Solar power jobs have grown by 120 percent over the last five years," said Nicole Steele, noting that the cost of solar has dropped by 75 percent during the same period. "In 2016, it's projected that 30,000 jobs will be added to the industry."


Nicole Steele speaking about solar power. -Photography by Ron Cassie


Taking Initiative for Our Future 
Adam Lindquist, Director of Healthy Harbor Initiative and John Kellet, President of Clearwater Mills LLC & Baltimore Trash Wheel

“Baltimore is unique in a lot of ways, but we’re not unique in that we have trash in our waterways.” -John Kellet

"It [the Trash Wheel] has had virtually no breakdowns, mainly because it’s so simple.” -John Kellet
“We’ve found it’s [the Trash Wheel] about one-tenth of the coast of chasing the trash around with boats.” -Adam Lindquist

“If you did four water wheels here, you could remove 90 percent of the trash in the harbor.” -John Kellet


Using Modern Technology to Address Conservation Behavior Change powered by The National Aquarium 
Featuring Bryan Barnes, Director of Digital Marketing Strategy, National Aquarium; Nabila Chami, Social Media Manager, National Aquarium; and Heather Doggett, Director of Guest Engagement, National Aquarium

[Ed note: This focused on the aquarium’s successful 48 Days of Blue social media campaign from April 22-June 8, which asked participants to adopt minor behavior modifications for the benefit of the environment such as forgoing straws in drinks or shortening their shower.]

"We challenge you to make small daily changes . . . Sometimes they’re a little harder, like planting a tree . . . But some of the challenges are really simple, like detoxing your mailbox and getting rid of all that junk mail that you already hate receiving.” -Nabila Chami 

"If we’re asking people, chiefly for our campaign, to share information  . . . We had to understand what was cool and what was uncool and make that part of our mission, as well.” -Nabila Chami

"We recently found out that our average attention span is eight seconds, down from 12 seconds in the year 2000. We literally have the attention span of a goldfish. It’s not because we’re getting dumber, it’s because we’re being bombarded with messages from the moment that we wake up until the moment that we go to bed. So if we want someone to do something, to take action, we have to make that information super accessible and it has to be easy.” -Nabila Chami

“There’s research that shows that every time you do a public commitment, saying ‘I pledge to do the thing,’ it actually increases the likelihood for real of you doing that thing.”-Heather Doggett

“In the 93 percent zone, people say, ‘I recycle plastic.’ But when we ask them to refuse plastic, that’s a totally different story. People are more into contemplating or thinking about it than doing it.” -Heather Doggett


A Livable City: The Adaptive Challenge of the Urban Century
Featuring Lindsay Thompson, Founder, City Lab, Professor, Carey Business School

“Last year, the United Nations defined 17 global challenges to sustainable development. They’re all connected, in some way, to the global scale of urbanization. What this means is that global challenges are city challenges.” -Lindsay Thompson

“These 17 challenges really boil down to five factors: place, people, community, citizens, property.” -Lindsay Thompson

"In the U.S., focusing on livable cities means 85 percent of the population is living in 100 cities producing 85 percent of the GDP on 12 percent of the land mass. Urban populations occupy less than 3 percent of the world’s land mass. Global challenges are much more manageable if you think about them as cities.” -Lindsay Thompson


Lindsay Thompson speaking at Light City U. -Photography by Amy Mulvihill

“Let’s talk about the urban experiment. You are the subject of this experiment. You’re the lab rats. You’re also the investigators, the scientists in this experiment. There’s no escape. Baltimore is your laboratory. The scary part: no one’s in charge. How this experiment turns out will determine not only your future, but the future of all of humanity on the plant. So no pressure.”-Lindsay Thompson

“A short time ago, we became an urban species. . . . By 2050, two-thirds of us will live in cities. By the end of the 21st century almost everyone in the world will live in a city. In the short space of a couple centuries, we will have transformed from an almost entirely agrarian, pastoral, tribal species to an almost entirely urban, tribe-less species.” -Lindsay Thompson

“Our tribal identities are tied to sports teams, high schools, but many of us are tribe-less.” -Lindsay Thompson

“As a highly complex, adaptive species, our physiology, our brains, our stress response systems, our emotional circuitry, our language skills, our social dispositions, and our powerful intellect all evolved for us to thrive and flourish in small tribes, close to familiar people and places, ready to take on together, the challenges of our environment. We didn’t evolve for cities. It took us hundreds of millennia to invent cities. . . . So why did we invent cities if they suck?” -Lindsay Thompson

“We invented prototype cities 11,000 years ago for three reasons: safety, community, and commerce. But we did not intend cities to be permanent residences. We mostly lived outside the walls and came and went from cities for functional purposes.” -Lindsay Thompson

“So how is this urban experiment going? On one hand, cities are indisputably one of humanity’s greatest, most ingenious, inventions. And this prototype city turned out to be a platform of unprecedented wealth creation and opportunity. There’s no disputing that. The wealth creation capabilities of capitalism would not even be possible without cities.” -Lindsay Thompson

“Most of us here are among the educated, healthy, affluent and lucky people who thrive in cities, and that makes it easy for us to think that cities work for everybody, but we know—especially here Baltimore—we know they don’t work for everybody. Some of us wonder, ‘What’s the problem with those people?’ But the question is really just the opposite: What is wrong with cities and what can we do to make them work for everybody?” -Lindsay Thompson

“You may not think this, but ugliness [of environment] is a risk.”  -Lindsay Thompson

“Violence and crime are not just violence and crime, they are acts of political resistance from people who have lost faith in civil society.” -Lindsay Thompson

“We need to refocus and rebalance for human purposes for our city for safety, community, wealth and commerce. . . . Start with your neighborhoods. Think of a city as organic. Neighborhoods are the cell structure of cities. You can’t know 600,000 people, but you can know the six people on your block, and 60 people in your neighborhood, and you can build a network of people who can take charge of the human experiment and make this city work.” -Lindsay Thompson



City Garage in Port Covington hosted the Creative Innovation conference sessions. -Photography by Mike Smith

The New Social Fabric
Featuring Sarah Hemminger, Co-Founder, CEO, Thread

“Building this community in Baltimore is not only possible, it’s essential. It is a quiet revolution that our city needs.” -Sarah Hemminger


Breathing Space: Arts, Festivals & Public Art for Social Change
Featuring Alex Rinsler, Public Artist, Festival Producer and Founding Director of the Giant’s Foundry

"Notice the rebellious thoughts that you have this week that are inspired and sparked by your environment and when the festival is over, its up to you to implement them after what you have experienced.” -Alex Rinsler

“Please don’t hand over a city to an artist, there won’t be buses. Well, there will be buses, but they’ll be covered in glitter.” -Alex Rinsler

“Festivals turn things upside down. And I think that’s very interesting because it’s that moment of fresh thinking when decisions can be made.” -Alex Rinsler


The 3 C's of 3D: Creativity, Collaboration, Connectivity
Featuring Jan Baum, Executive Director at 3D Innovations Institute

"Light is the perfect metaphor for Baltimore. Now more than ever." -Jan Baum


Sharing Creative Power: Why We Must Create Opportunity for Innovation in Young Women
Featuring Richelle Parham, Former CMO of eBay

"I was at dinner with my mother last night and took a picture of a picture of people cleaning their marble stairs to send to my cousins. We used to have to clean my grandmothers marble stairs . . . I really feel such a connection to the city." -Richelle Parham


Collaborative Competition: Encouraging Young Women to Embolden One Another
Featuring Reshma Saujani, Founder Girls Who Code

"We teach our girls to be perfect and we teach our boys to be brave.” -Reshma Saujani

"I got an email from Sheryl Sandberg! I love Sheryl Sandberg like I love Beyoncé.” -Reshma Saujani


Steve Case on the Internet's Third Wave
Featuring Mike Hankin, CEO Brown Advisory, and Steve Case, Co-Founder of AOL, CEO Revolution LLC

"If you felt spammed by our discs, I'm sorry, but it worked!" -Steve Case on AOL free trials

"Mind the 3 P's: people, passion, and perseverance." -Steve Case on growing a business

"I've always had a soft spot for Baltimore." -Steve Case

TheChatter ArtsDistrict News & Community Light City Baltimore Light City U


Meet The Editor
Jess Mayhugh is the digital editor for Baltimore, where she covers nightlife, sports, food, and events.


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