Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

As a TEDx organizer and curator, I’m always on the lookout for truly standout speakers and ideas. Muskan Kumari got on TEDxPiscataquaRiver’s radar when she applied online to be a speaker — the exception that proved the rule that people who nominate themselves do not always make the best TEDx speakers. I’m so glad that she did nominate herself, because otherwise, we would never have found this compelling student from Pakistan, who had come to New Hampshire for a year. Below is an event recap I originally published on I hope you’ll read it, watch her talk, and be inspired to change the world — or to take a risk and nominate yourself for something bold. You never know what might come of it.

The future global leaders right in our own backyards: Muskan Kumari at TEDxPiscataquaRiver

It has come to be expected that your local TEDx event will feature a mix of local voices and nationally-acclaimed leaders from a variety of fields. But this year’s TEDxPiscataquaRiver was treated with an international guest in one 16-year-old Muskan Kumari, who presented her TEDx talk entitled “Looking for a Different Side.” Muskan had much to tell the Portsmouth, New Hampshire crowd, about her own misconceptions about the United States before she arrived, and the misconceptions that greeted her when she first arrived at a small New Hampshire high school.

Muskan’s father, Vinod Kumar, travelled from Pakistan to Portsmouth to see her talk and arrived at 3S Artspace Friday morning, May 6th, with Muskan’s uncle from Connecticut. They joined over 200 people who sat with rapt attention as Muskan took the stage shortly before lunch during the full-day TEDx conference. “Little I’ve been in the United States and little I know about the real story of the common American citizens,” she started, explaining her journey to the US.

Muskan arrived in Goffstown, New Hampshire in August 2015 after being one of only a handful of students selected from Pakistan to participate in the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study (YES) program. Though she is only 16 years old, she is set to graduate US high school in two weeks, before returning to Pakistan in June to finish high school in her hometown and then returning the US for college.

“I chose to participate in this exchange program to diminish single stories and labels regarding my religion, my country and my own self,” Muskan said. “I always found America as one of those powerful nations who have nothing else but hatred towards predominantly Muslim nations. But, after coming to the United States, this false image has been diminished. No wonder, why a dialogue from To Kill a Mockingbird feels so true: ‘Atticus, he was real nice.’ ‘Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them.’”

After talk, Muskan was approached by attendee after attendee, all telling her how her talk affected them, and how happy they were to have heard her message. Muskan said that she found TED Talks when she was 11 years old, and ever since then it had been her dream to someday give one, herself.

Amidst well-known authors, scientists and CEOs, this brave young woman from Pakistan was a highlight of the day for many. Her message to all resounded.

“I can change the world. You can change the world.”

Watch Muskan’s talk here on the TEDx Talks YouTube channel:

Featured photo by Michael Sterling Photography:

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“A lot of people think that the United States is the best place in the world to have a baby, and that’s just not true. It’s the most dangerous place in the developed world to have a baby.” This statement by artist and birth justice advocate Michelle Hartney may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s hard to argue with the statistics. Hartney is part of a growing movement fighting for women’s right to choose when it comes to their maternal health care.

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I had a great time chatting with Larry Drake on WSCA’s Seacoast Currents show this morning. We talked about how I got started with political activism and advocacy, and what I learned from Planned Parenthood’s national volunteer summit, The Power of Pink (#PinkOutTheVote). 

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Political power is everything. But nearly 25 years after “The Year of the Woman,” U.S. women have just 20 percent representation in the Senate and 19.3 percent in the House.

Here in New Hampshire, we gained headlines in 2013 with phrases like “… In New Hampshire, Women Rule!” when we became the first state in history to send an all-female delegation to Washington. But here at home, New Hampshire women make up just about a third of our state’s legislative representatives (33 percent in the House and 37.5 percent in the Senate). When we look at mayors, an even smaller percentage, just 16.7 percent, are women. Nationally, New Hampshire ranks fifth out of 50 states in political gender equality. So relatively speaking, New Hampshire women aren’t nearly as underrepresented as women are in the rest of the country. But is that really the best we can do?

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TEDx Portsmouth Brings Community to the Edge
250 People Pack 3S Artspace for a Day of Talks, Technology & more

Saturday, May 7, 2015 — Portsmouth, NH // A crowd of over 200 engaged community members came together Friday to celebrate the sharing of ideas at the fourth annual TEDx event in Portsmouth, with the theme “On the Edge.” The crowd size was double the size of the previous three years, and was filled with representatives of local businesses, nonprofits, educational institutions, as well as artists, musicians and students from local high schools and colleges.

The event featured 10 speakers that ranged from scientists, authors, judges and psychometricians who brought talks that ranged from sustainable clothing, spiritual depth, football, sexual violence prevention and Dungeons & Dragons. Speakers included authors Steve Almond and Ethan Gilsdorf,’s Maxine Bédat, explorer Zand Martin and NH Chief Justice of the Superior Court Tina Nadeau. Performances by local renowned musician Randy Armstrong and dancer Lissa Curtis with dancers from Northeastern Ballet Theatre. It was a day filled with emotion, inspiration, humor and passion. People got to experience cutting-edge technology and picture themselves on the edge of survival.

Videos of all presentations will be posted on and on the TEDx Talks YouTube channel in the coming weeks.

One speaker was 16-year-old Muskan Kumari, a youth ambassador from Pakistan who arrived in the US in August of 2015. She has spent the last 9 months in Goffstown, New Hampshire as a part of the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Abroad program. Her father travelled from Pakistan to Portsmouth to see her speak at the event. “I can change the world; you can change the world,” she told a rapt audience after sharing that her misconceptions about the United States were changed after spending time here, and expressing her desire to do the same about American’s misconceptions about her home country.

“Our goal was to bring ideas to the community that brought us to the edge of our comfort zones and pushed us to think about things in a different way,” said event organizer Crystal Paradis, who travelled to Geneva in December to qualify for the license to increase capacity at the event this year. “It was such a pleasure to work with the many community organizations and businesses who made the event possible. It fit the theme of ‘On the Edge’ and also demonstrated the city’s unofficial mottos of ‘City of the Open Door’ and ‘A Tiny Bit Huge.’”

The gallery space at 3S Artspace was transformed for the day into TEDx’s Technology Playground, featuring the yet-to-be-released HTC Vive with Google’s Tilt Brush (an interactive virtual reality painting experience, as well as 3D 360 video content by local company EmotiveVR, were enjoyed by attendees during breaks and the after party. The Tech Playground was a popular exhibit and allowed attendees to paint virtual fire, flowers and ice in a virtual setting, and visit Tuscany and the Grand Canyon through Virtual Reality. The Portsmouth Public Library also hosted a station with books from local authors, a 3D printer and a pedal-powered charger. Attendees will be able to see screenshots of their Tilt Brush creations online at in about a week.

The On the Edge Story & Art Exhibit was also on display in the gallery, featuring artwork by local artists including Katherine Doyle, and Anna Nuttall; and by students from Portsmouth Middle School and St. Thomas High School; and from a workshop at Chases Garage for Noble High School students, facilitated by Continuum Arts Collective and coordinated by TEDxPiscataquaRiver. The artwork was inspired by the On the Edge theme and stories of community members compiled by Elissa Margolin, who interviewed members of the community who have been assisted by local nonprofit organizations.

Also inspired by the stories was a collaborative film entitled “On the Edge,” which debuted at the event, created by Catherine Stewart and CJ Lewis, with Michael Rodriguez Torrent. Music was composed for the film by local musician Jonny Peiffer and it featured several local actors.

Ideas shared during the day included Ethan Gilsdorf, whose talk “How Dungeons & Dragons is Good for You (In Real Life)” showed that failure is never the end, only a change in the story, and that role playing games engage the imagination and teach teamwork, collaboration and empathy. “Is the troll evil,” he posed, “or was he just raised that way?”

Zand Martin, the 2011 Outside Magazine Adventurer of the Year, spoke on “Cultivating a Love of Challenge” and described being on a hill in a hurricane-level storm, looking up at the starry sky and developing personal growth by pushing the edge of his own limitations. “Exploration is a human need,” he told the crowd.

VP of Marketing for the Atlantic, Sam Rosen presented his talk “We’re at Risk of Losing Our Spiritual Depths,” advocating for an evidence-based spirituality in an increasingly secularized world.

Dr. Skylar Bayer from University of Maine’s School of Marine Science presented “Why the Sex Lives of Our Seafood Matter” about the reproductive cycles of cod, lobster and sea scallops, and how it impacts our local economy and food supply.’s Maxine Bédat presented “The High Cost of Our Cheap Fashion,” showing insight into the environmental cost of a dubious supply chain, and advocated learning about where our clothes come from. In addition to a steep drop in American-made clothing, there has been a sharp increase in polyester, said Bédat, which is non-biodegradable, takes more energy than natural fibers to produce and is most often manufactured in factories with sub-par working conditions.

A standing ovation greeted Lissa Curtis, who spoke about her ongoing fight for justice and the importance of speaking up about sexual assault after performing “Be Brave” with dancers from Northeastern Ballet Theatre and accompanied by her brother Zachary Silk, who wrote and performed the song that accompanied the ballet performance.

Other speakers included Dr. Jennifer of Measured Progress, who spoke on using data to motivate change through better understanding of psychometrics, and Dr. Robert Eckstein of the University of New Hampshire, who advocated for men to become more engaged in the prevention of violence against women.

The event was hosted by students from Portsmouth High School and the Seacoast Rep’s Portsmouth Academy of Performing Arts, Charlie Sirmaian and Danny O’Leary.

Event sponsors this year were MacEdge, the University of New Hampshire, Untitled Hospitality, Proximity Lab, Mulhern & Scott, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and 3S Artspace.

Download photos of the event here:


More information can be found at:



About TEDx, x = independently organized event: In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)


About TED: TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a four-day conference in California 26 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives. At TED, the world’s leading thinkers and doers are asked to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. Talks are then made available, free, at TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Benoit Mandelbrot, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende and former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Two major TED events are held each year: The TED Conference takes place every spring in on the West Coast (along with a parallel conference, TEDActive), and TEDGlobal is held each summer in Edinburgh, Scotland. TED’s media initiatives include, where new TEDTalks are posted daily; the new TED Conversations, enabling broad conversations among TED fans; and the Open Translation Project, which provides subtitles and interactive transcripts as well as the ability for any TEDTalk to be translated by volunteers worldwide. TED has established the annual TED Prize, where exceptional individuals with a wish to change the world are given the opportunity to put their wishes into action; TEDx, which offers individuals or groups a way to host local, self-organized events around the world; and the TED Fellows program, helping world-changing innovators from around the globe to become part of the TED community and, with its help, amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities.

For information about TED’s upcoming conferences, visit

Follow TED on Twitter at, or on Facebook at


Media Contact:

Crystal Paradis, Organizer, TEDxPiscataquaRiver

[Contact info redacted for writing sample]


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“My sister was lucky when her husband tried to kill her 18 months ago. As crazy as that sounds, it’s true. That attack against her life gave her the courage to finally call for help and escape nearly two decades of abuse. Hearing this story devastated us, her loving family who had suspected for decades but hoped it was just our imagination, but it also made us whole again by allowing us back into her life.

Before escaping through a window, she tried to calm her kids, my 11-year-old niece and screaming, crying 6-year-old nephew, who had just witnessed his father strangling his mother. “Who knew your own dad could turn out to be a bad guy?” he asked. As she waited outside in the freezing cold Grafton, NH night, hiding in the dark in her pajamas, for the one and half hours it took the police to arrive after she called for help, safety seemed so far away.

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Thank you to All Above All for highlighting my op-ed on repealing the Hyde Amendment in their “Acts of Boldness” campaign! It’s such an honor to featured alongside so many of my heroes in the fight for reproductive justice and gender equality.

Thank you for all you’re doing to amplify the voices of those fighting to #BeBoldEndHyde!

View all Acts of Boldness here:

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Freezing: A Common Response to Sexual Assault

As Sexual Assault Awareness Month approaches, I hope we’re all about to learn more about how to prevent sexual assault and get better as a society at supporting survivors. In that spirit, I wrote about the “freeze” response in my most recent op-ed for Seacoast Sunday (Fosters Daily Democrat/The Portsmouth Herald), Freezing: A Common Response to Sexual Assault.

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You’re probably familiar with the brain’s two most well-known trauma responses: “fight” and “flight.” But there’s a third reaction to trauma that often goes unmentioned, although it’s an overwhelmingly common response, especially in cases of sexual assault and rape: the “freeze” response.

Would you be surprised to learn that over 90 percent of survivors of sexual assault respond by freezing? I heard this statistic at a recent Neoteric Dance Collaborative event at The Music Hall called One Billion Rising. The event, part of a global movement to end violence against women, was a fundraiser for Haven, a local organization focused on preventing sexual abuse and providing support for those impacted by domestic and sexual violence. During the show, ballet dancer Lissa Curtis shared her story of freezing in response to a sexual assault, and said “this happens with more than 90 percent of women.”

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In the inaugural article of my new column for Seacoast Sunday (The Portsmouth Herald/Fosters Daily Democrat), I wrote about the discriminatory nature of the Hyde Amendment, which unfairly targets poor women by restricting access to their legal right to have a safe abortion. It’s a matter of inequality. 

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