Heron Farms’ founder, and TEDxCharleston presenter, Sam Norton was named to the 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30 list | Ruta Smith photo

TEDxCharleston is back, with its first event coming this Wednesday after a pandemic-prompted hiatus in 2020. This year’s TEDx’s theme is “CASCADES,” which “embodies the spirit that triggers great force and movement within the Charleston community and beyond.”

The event features 19 different speakers, so those looking for a few highlights may have a hard time picking just a few speakers to tune into. To that end, we’ve hand-picked five TEDxCharleston presenters that we will be paying special attention to.

Kristy Danford, director of the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council

Kristy Danford, the founding director of the Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC), joined county leadership in 2015 to help lead efforts to safely reduce local jail use, battle inequities and engage the community in criminal justice system improvements. Danford also has more than two decades of experience in the criminal justice field and nonprofits. Last year, she joined the Charleston Forum, a community project striving to provide dialogues on race.

Raven Saunders, Olympic athlete

Olympic shot-putter Raven Saunders took the world by storm ahead of her silver medal victory at the Tokyo Games – her second Olympic event. Saunders will be sharing the challenges she’s faced on and off the field from her journey from a Charleston high school to the Olympics. Saunders’ openness about the LGBTQ community, mental health and racial justice has been an inspiration to many who watched her compete. Saunders also made national headlines on the medal stand, raising her hands over her head in a defiant “X,” a protest that Yahoo Sports called the “most high-profile protest yet” during the games.

Jody Bell, College of Charleston honors student

College of Charleston honors student Jody Bell switched majors five times through her educational career. But despite the unorthodox journey, the first-year Beatty Scholar Bell was invited to TEDx in 2020, only for the event to be canceled due to the pandemic two weeks before it was scheduled. Bell’s presentation on immigration seeks to start a new conversation, and help lead listeners to become a part of the solution, rather than bystanders. 

Sam Norton, entrepreneur 

Sam Norton’s Johns Island based company Heron Farms was born out of salty, vividly green sea beans. Norton’s produce has appeared on the menu at Charleston’s Chubby Fish on tuna crudo; Minero in ceviche; Husk delicately perched atop raw cuts of flounder, tuna, and beeliner; and Delaney Oyster House, garnishing the seafood chowder. The plants are salt-tolerant, making them perfect for cultivating in Charleston. The sea-farming venture has made him the most grant-funded College of Charleston student ever, and is an important step toward a new sustainable food supply. 

Chris Singleton, children’s book author

Chris Singleton, a former baseball player and best-selling children’s book author, had his life flipped upside down when his mother was killed in the Mother Emanuel AME tragedy in 2015. “Ever since my mother was killed at my church back in 2015 it has become my mission to teach our young people to love one another despite their many differences,” he wrote on Twitter. “My mother’s life was taken away because of racism, but I promise to keep using my voice to put an end to it!” Only 18 at the time, Singleton has since spent years teaching kids about the power of love through his own story of loss.

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