North Central College student Matthew Wilke speaks at TEDx about “Power of Place”

Feb 27, 2015

North Central College student Matthew Wilke ’15 spoke at a TEDx event about the impact of setting—or place—in delivering messages.

Wilke was one of six student speakers selected to make three-minute presentations Feb. 13 at the inaugural TEDxNorthCentralCollege event. Topics were inspired by the theme “Changing the World for Good.” The message of his talk, titled “The Power of Place: Nonviolent Resistance in Palestine,” was that setting can have profound impact on the context of messages.

“I’ve always been inspired by Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,” Wilke said. “(I was) moved by his words about peace, freedom and justice. I’d always wondered, what is it about that speech that made it so powerful?”

Wilke, a sociology major from Derby, Kan., said he began to discover the answer in fall 2014 while conducting research in Palestine. His project explored the role of religious identity and place in the efforts of Christian peace activists and nonviolent resistance leaders. He explained how at Christmastime a group of Palestinian activists dressed up like Santa Claus gathered near a military checkpoint in Bethlehem and held signs reading, “We want Christmas without occupation” and “Jesus came with a message of peace, freedom and justice.”

“The protests caught the attention of international news as images of Santa Clause being tear-gassed by soldiers went viral,” Wilke said. He traveled to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve to observe the activism in person. “The most powerful image I saw was when Bethlehem’s youth decorated a Christmas tree, except they had exchanged the ornaments with empty tear gas canisters and stun grenades fired by military.”

That, Wilke says, is when he realized the power that place has on messages related to social justice campaigns.

“Place is everything. Land, special buildings or monuments—it may be a historical site or area of religious significance,” he said. “These places all have a power to them. However, that is from the values, the memories or the emotions that we have invested in those places.”

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers topics ranging from science to business to global issues. Independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world.