Growing up as a military kid, Neferteri D. Strickland lived around the world, all the while attending schools run by the U.S. Department of Defense.
“The general’s child went to the same school as the sergeant’s child and the children of ambassadors,” she explains. “It was a situation where you had the haves and have-nots in the same space, with the resources of both coming together.” She didn’t have the words for it as a child but, in hindsight, it was a model of educational equity and equality.
Strickland’s childhood inspired her, at age 17, to join the National Guard—she’s now part of the 28th Infantry Division in Pennsylvania—and also led to her current civilian role, as a STEM ambassador for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a position through which she helps develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) policy leaders in Pennsylvania and strives to expand access to STEM programming to all students.
“The general’s child went to the school that the sergeant’s child and the children of ambassadors,” Strickland explains. “So it was a situation where you had the haves and have-nots in the same space, with the resources of both coming together.”
“I am first a technologist,” she says. “Because both of my parents were service members overseas, I had a computer in my home at a very young age, at a time when most people didn’t. So when the opportunity came to support STEM education before it was even labeled STEM education, I was on board. I just speak that language.”
Now parenting a middle schooler and high schooler, Strickland has an even deeper appreciation of the disparities in today’s educational landscape, as well as a heightened awareness of the challenges students face in Philly, even where there is such an abundance of world-class opportunities for higher education swirling around our young people.
In that spirit, she’s organized TEDxIntrepidAveED, a hybrid in-person/online event to be held on Saturday, May 15th. A panel of five education innovators will be live at the 3675 Market Street/CIC Philadelphia, while guests can tune in from home.
“The theme of the event is ‘from the pivot to pivotal,’” explains Strickland. “The pivot, by definition, is that very mechanical shift on which a mechanism turns or oscillates; whereas pivotal refers to that crucial importance in relation to the development or success of something else.”
The list of presenters was curated by a team that included Tiara Durham, founder of the nonprofit ColorsofCovid.org, which focuses on sharing Covid-19’s impact on communities of color and supporting them with resources and evidenced-based information to help quell misinformation and disinformation as it relates to racial disparities in healthcare and education. Speakers will include Benjamin Pietrzyk, director of entrepreneur mentoring at Uncommon Individual Foundation; William Tyrone Toms, co-founder and chief creative officer of REC Philly; Melody Wright, owner and principal at SAY/DO Strategies, a Philly-based consulting firm (and the first Black executive to lead government affairs for the Philadelphia Water Department); Tiara Willis, an advocate for the power of healing through meditation, yoga, and journaling, skills she learned throughout her world travels and time spent living throughout Africa; and Chidi Asoluka, a dean and English teacher in New York City who founded Asoluka Company, a consulting firm that strives to develop socially and politically-conscious curricula in schools across the country.
“It’s all about being fearless and adventurous as we move toward a better region and better education in the region,” says Strickland.
Attendees will have the option of choosing from three levels of tickets, all of which yield the same access, but provide different levels of support: free, “pivot” ($50) and “pivotal” ($100). Proceeds will go to cover the cost of this year’s event and the planning of another one for 2022.
And the name of the event? TEDxIntrepidAveED? Well, Tedx talks are location-based and, prior to the pandemic, the Navy Yard was supposed to be the site for the event—literally where South Broad and Intrepid Avenue intersect. So, yes, Strickland likes the name for its homage to that geography, but also for the definition of the word intrepid:
“It’s all about being fearless and adventurous as we move toward a better region and better education in the region.”
Saturday, May 15, 2021, 10:45am–1pm, online; register here.Header photo, from top left, clockwise: William Tyrone Toms, Tiara Willis, Chidi Asoluka, Neferteri D. Strickland, Melody Wright and Tiara Durham