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Student-Run TEDxDrewUniversity on Entrepreneurship, Sexual Abuse and Ecology

Features student, alum and professor.

April 2016 – TEDxDrew University this year featured an undergraduate concerned about victims of sexual violence, an alum who started a head wrap business and a professor who talked ecology.

The theme of the event, which was organized by 16 students , was The Nature of Being. All told, eight people spoke on the stage of The Concert Hall during TEDxDrew, which was sponsored by the university, its Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict, its Everyday Ethics program, The Princeton Review and Shutterstock. Here’s what the Drew speakers had to say.

Déjà Lewis-Nwalipenja C’20
Political science major

Lewis-Nwalipenja began with a lighthearted memory: singing “I Believe I Can Fly” at kindergarten graduation. Quickly, though, she turned to the singer behind that song, R. Kelly, who has been accused of criminal sexual abuse, targeting girls as young as 14.

“No one helped these young girls,” Lewis-Nwalipenja said. One reason, she said, is their race. Too often, she added, sexual abuse of black girls and women is dismissed, or they are expected to be stoic despite their trauma.

Lewis-Nwalipenja said more must be done to make sure that survivors of sexual abuse are not blamed and that their pain is not ignored. She insisted that it is our moral responsibility to hold perpetrators accountable and to advocate for our girls.

“The time to care about the lives and the voices and the humanity of our black girls is now and has always been now,” she said.


Paola Mathé C’08
Founder of Fanm Djanm

Mathé emigrated from Haiti to the U.S. at age 12 and attended high school in Newark before majoring in economics and French literature at Drew. She started Fanm Djamn (“Strong Woman” in Haitian Kreyol)—a head wrap company turned lifestyle brand—to empower women to live boldly and celebrate sisterhood.

“Head wraps made me feel tall and powerful and colorful,” Mathé explained.

Mathé shared her appreciation for the beauty of the world and her desire to express the colors of her own personality—even in the face of difficult experiences, including the premature birth of her daughter last year.

After all, she said, “Living colorfully means I am receiving and giving love.”


Laurel Kearns
Professor of ecology, religion and society
Drew Theological School

Kearns asked the audience to take a deep breath and noted that when humans exhale carbon dioxide, it is absorbed by trees and plants, which then release the oxygen used by humans.

“We need each other,” Kearns said.

The interconnectedness of breathing makes people personally aware of the dangers of cutting trees and the air pollution that contributes to climate change and disproportionately hurts poor and minority communities, Kearns explained.

Besides, she added, “If you ask someone if they want to breathe some dirty air, who says yes?” Kearns demonstrated that concern for healthy clean air can be a productive way to talk about climate change.