Speakers included Alexandria Bishop, Moriah Barnhart, Jess Marion, Tristen Johnson, Albert Moreno and Mirela Setkic. Photo courtesy of Alan Mathon/Connect.
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Finding Your Voice: Fourth annual TedxUSFSP

April 11 marked the fourth annual TedxUSFSP “Finding Your Voice.”

Speakers included Alexandria Bishop, Moriah Barnhart, Jess Marion, Tristen Johnson, Albert Moreno and Mirela Setkic. The speakers’ topics included handling depression, advocating for medical marijuana, living with a disability, gendered racism, bias against people convicted of a crime and bias against people with accents respectively.

The talks were recorded for Tedx and will be available to watch on YouTube sometime in later 2019.

“Imagine growing up in a world completely different from you, and you from it,” began Jess Marion, published author and contributor to TheMighty.com, a community site for people with disabilities, chronic illness and mental health conditions.

Marion was born with cataracts in her eyes. She was able to have them surgically removed but lived her youth visually impaired.

Marion talked about how her high school refused her rights to an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) by forcing her to take a physical education class. She and her family requested that she take another class in place of physical education, but was forced to take the class anyway. While in physical education, she was hit by a baseball in the eye- an injury that could have completely cost her her vision.

Marion said over time, she “learned” not to talk about her impairment with others and “deal with it,” because her experiences through school had “taught” her to.

In 2016, Marion’s vision had declined to 20/400, and she was diagnosed as legally blind. She “could no longer pass as a sighted person,” she said, and she had to start using a cane while she walked. At the time, a friend of hers had been running Spartan Races and inspired her to join. In order to prepare for the race however, she had to practice exercising at the gym.

Exercising required her to be verbal about her disability with the other people she exercised with. Eventually, she started sharing her progress on social media where she received messages from people thanking her. People would thank her not only for inspiring them to exercise but also in helping them confront their biases and learn more about people who are visually impaired.

Marion has run in two Spartans in April and September 2018. She will be running her third Spartan April 13.

Albert Moreno, USFSP veterans service representative and most outstanding graduate in 2016, walked onto the stage carrying an orange jumpsuit.

Moreno said people often base judgments on people with very little context. Moreno gave the example of a Tedx speaker: a well dressed and well-spoken individual whose audience assumed held some form of authority on their topic even if they had never previously met them.

When he was 17, Moreno enlisted in the U.S. Army. While he was filling out paperwork, he saw another person enlisting put N.E. for their state on their paperwork. Moreno asked them if they were a Patriots fan because he thought that New England was a state. But, to society, he was a 17-year-old that risked his life by enlisting in the military and serving his country.

Moreno is also one of the tens of millions of Americans who has a criminal record. When people find out that someone has a criminal record, they feel “betrayed” because they no longer think that person is a “good person.”

Moreno asked if there was a way people could immediately identify people with criminal records so people could avoid this sense of betrayal. As he said this, Moreno put on the orange jumpsuit.

Moreno has been denied from multiple jobs because of his record. He would’ve been denied from USF if not for his professors from St. Petersburg College who called the university to speak for his behalf. Moreno said if he never was accepted into USF, he never would’ve had the opportunity to mentor students, be s student body senator, work at the Military and Veterans Success Center or earn the title of most outstanding graduate.

As of April 13, it will be seven years since Moreno came out of prison. He is thankful for the opportunities and support system he has had to reintegrate into society since then. He asks for everyone to try to provide opportunity and support to others who have been incarcerated and are trying to reintegrate, to “make the world a better place” and “fight with us instead of against.”

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