‘Crossing the Divide’ with big ideas

Every day we awaken to a choice. Will today be a day for hope, vision and big ideas? Or will we stick to what we usually do?

Most of the time, we choose the latter. That’s OK. Often, we have work. Other days, we are tired and need a break.

But if we go too long without hope, vision and big ideas, we get stuck. When we all get stuck — for years at a time — whole societies go stagnant.

That’s the chief complaint that many young people share about living in rural places and small towns. Hope, vision and big ideas become something they associate with big cities and faraway places. Those with resources have the luxury of chasing dreams. Others sit and stew until they become too busy to remember what hope, vision and big ideas ever were to begin with.

My job places me in regular conversation with young adults on the cusp of their careers and future lives. I was one of those kids myself, just like you, seemingly not that long ago. Fantasies of Chicago and New York inspired me to abandon the grinding gears of the Iron Range for bright lights and bustle. 

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately to some, I never got any farther than Iowa. 

Money was one reason. The austere Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University proved way out of my price range. I got a scholarship to a school in Dubuque, but it was still a stretch. Just as the strain was getting to me, a personal revelation inspired me to reconsider northern Minnesota. 

I realized that the Range was far more interesting to me than those other places. Couple that with a pretty girl in Hibbing and a severe lack of funds, public college back north started making a lot of sense.

The Range didn’t change. I changed. And in changing, I saw something in the Range I had missed.

Encountering ideas doesn’t mean automatically adopting them. It just means your vision is sharpened by experience and new perspective. One such opportunity will soon be available to residents of the Iron Range, especially Virginia.

TEDx Silver Lake will take place next Friday, Feb. 23, at the Iron Trail Motors Event Center in Virginia, Minnesota. The theme is “Crossing the Divide,” a reference to the Laurentian Divide, but also all that divides our community. The event combines eight unique short presentations about big ideas with music and conversation.

“TED Talks” are tremendously important to some and a complete and utter mystery to others. It really seems to depend on which corner of the internet you dwell, or if you use the internet at all. 

I’ll admit, TED and TEDx talks on YouTube sometimes attract careerist strivers who speak in jargon-filled language developed on LinkedIn. But when done well, the talks share really cool ideas from unique points of view.

TEDx regional conferences follow the spirit of the TED organization, which got its start sharing inspiring ideas about technology, education and design. Over the years, TED expanded its focus to business, the arts and global issues. 

I gave a talk at TEDx 1000 Lakes in Grand Rapids in 2011. Now, I’m a volunteer with the speakers committee for TEDx Silver Lake. The speakers for this event are planning a lot of great fodder for hope, vision and big ideas.

Speakers include Ellie Norvitch (“How Supporting the Arts Can Keep Our Communities Thriving”); Julie Lucas (“Climate Change Solutions from the Ground Up”); Lisa Beck (“How to Bridge the Generational Gap Through Community”); Shannon Watson (“Why We’re Divided and What You Can Do About It”); Aaron Kelson (“How Teaching Creativity Frees Great Goodness”); Leah Lemm (“Echoes of Empowerment: Amplifying Native Voices, While Finding My Own”); Marlise Riffel and Maria Jensen (“Taking the Lead in E-Mining”); and Jeffrey Hanson (“Native Bacteria and Minnesota Iron Eliminate Sulfate”).

Virginia native Paul Metsa will share music and stories at the event. The Oshkii Giizhik Singers, a group of Indigenous women singers and hand drummers from northern Minnesota, will also perform.

All of the speakers or their message have a tie to the Iron Range. You can find out about tickets at www.tedxsilverlake.com or look for the speeches on YouTube in weeks to follow.

The Iron Range changed a great deal just in my blip of a middle-aged life. It will change a lot more before I’m done. I like to think that my actions, however small, might help make change that inspires future generations rather than send them away. I know I’m not alone. In our wildest dreams, this might become a place that attracts hope, vision and big ideas. 

We might yet cross the divide.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcastPower in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Friday, Feb. 16, 2024 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. Looks like an interesting group. However no zoom possibilities. And a person associated with MiningMinnesota And yet no one from say Friends of the Boundary Waters or Save Lake Superior or even Marshall Helmberger ?

  2. Chris Baldwin says

    So we heard from the executive director of the largest sulfide mining lobbyist group in Minnesota? Huh…

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