Wornie Reed, professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, is an expert on race and criminal justice, labor market discrimination, ethnicity and health-care disparities, and a range of related issues. 

On Thursday, Nov. 20, he will be challenged to distill the essence of his nearly 40 years in academia into a 12-minute talk.

Reed, director of the university’s Race and Social Policy Research Center, is one of the speakers for the third annual TEDxVirginiaTech at the Moss Arts Center.

“It’s going to be hard—just twelve minutes!” he said. “I have wondered, ‘How can I do this?’ On the other hand, you can’t talk about too many things, so I’m going to deal with only one point, and two or three issues surrounding that.”

Besides being brief, his speech, titled “A Framework for Civil Discourse about Race and Racism,” must be inspiring and thought-provoking. It also must “illuminate,” the theme for this year’s TEDxVirginiaTech event. Each speaker must shine a light on new approaches to perennial global problems.

Reed volunteered in April to be a TEDxVirginiaTech participant. He was on the short list of potential speakers invited to give preliminary talks to the selection committee. He found out in August that he had been chosen.

At about the same time, Reed learned he had been elected to the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, another honor for the professor of sociology and Africana studies.

He has been associated with the ACLU since the 1990s and has presented at the organization’s conferences and forums in Massachusetts and Ohio.

Reed’s new ACLU duties and the upcoming TEDxVirginiaTech talk are in addition to an already daunting schedule. 

He is finishing a book about labor market discrimination, collaborating on a book about blacks in Virginia, studying statewide data on juvenile court processing, and analyzing data on the relationship between lead poisoning and violence.

Reed, who joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 2009, speaks passionately about that last issue. “I argue that lead poisoning is the most important health problem in America’s urban areas,” he said.

“It affects 15 to 30 percent of kids in some cities. It has no cure. It does irreparable harm to children’s neurological systems.” The result, he said, is lowered IQ scores, attention deficit disorder and other learning disabilities. “It is especially harmful below age seven.”

Reed and two graduate students in the Race and Social Policy Research Center have collected data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the amount of lead in the atmosphere in every county in the U.S. Using GIS technology, they will map lead “hot spots” and explore the correlation with violence in those areas.

Lead poisoning is one of many health-related issues Reed has studied. This semester he is teaching a graduate course on health disparities and race.

“The lower the socioeconomic status, the poorer the health,” he said, but access to health care is only part of the equation. The course also covers diseases prevalent among certain ethnic groups and racial difference in how treatment is prescribed.

Venturing into yet another field, Reed will teach a University Honors class next spring on race and sports.

Founded in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment, and design converge, the national TED program “is really amazing,” Reed said. 

“I am honored to be on the program this year at Virginia Tech, although I know it will be a challenge. When you have only twelve minutes to make your point, every word must count.”