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Interview Issue

Shelley Meyer: Psychiatric Nurse, Spin Instructor

We are all about to suffer for AARP’s error. I’m in Shelley Meyer’s spinning class, and she pedals furiously while explaining the cause for her current distress between labored breaths. “I got my AARP card…in the mail today…that made me mad…since when is 50 old? Well, we…will see…who’s old...” Photo by Chris Casella As the [...]



We are all about to suffer for AARP’s error. I’m in Shelley Meyer’s spinning class, and she pedals furiously while explaining the cause for her current distress between labored breaths.

“I got my AARP card…in the mail today…that made me mad…since when is 50 old? Well, we…will see…who’s old…”

Photo by Chris Casella

Photo by Chris Casella

As the rest of the class embarks on a brutal climb, I fantasize about slowly, literally, backpedaling into the parking lot and calling it a day.

But how can you bow out when you’re being coached by the woman who motivates one of the best motivators in America? Nope, stopping is not an option. For me or for Shelley and Urban Meyer.

Recruiting and nursing classes and practices and book clubs and press conferences and film sessions and spinning and commercials and sports…they do it all as a team—a true “family program,” as Shelley refers to it.

The first lady of football, as I characterize her, is not unlike the country’s first lady: a Type A personality that rivals her husband’s, a competitive streak, a passion for physical and mental betterment, an approachable charm—and she still resists the urge to shrink from a scrutinizing public. Her repartee with the @FakeUrbanMeyer Twitter user is enough to prove she’s different than your average coach’s wife.

“A huge part of Urban’s job, and one of his goals, is to mentor these young men to be the best dad, the best husband, the best member of society they can be—I love being part of that. ”

Which is why my list of questions soon becomes a backup plan, a loose construct for a free-flowing conversation that touches on everything from player conduct to the media to whether or not football has gotten dangerously big. But it starts where they began, their first meeting, when she got him to smile during a Sigma Chi fraternity event by showing him a centerfold in Playboy magazine and asking, “Does this look like me?” They’ve been together ever since.

On their early days: He was really good-looking—I was shocked that he was interested in me because I came from a farm—I was very plain, I was very simple. I went away to the big city to college and that helped me grow a lot. He had seen a lot of things, and I had done nothing…His family didn’t have much money—they had more money than my family. My family had no money. Then, when he got into coaching, he still didn’t have any money. He didn’t have any money at all to his name.

On money and privilege: (Urban’s salary is around $4.6 million)

I actually had the first money of either of us because I got a real job in a hospital working as a nurse, and I had to support him for two years when he was at Illinois State because he made like $7,000 a year for two years…It’s a little better now because [graduate assistants] get a salary and get school paid for, but there’s more money to go around now. So I had to support him for two years, and then even still at his first job at Colorado State, [which] was his first real-time job getting paid, was still $28,000 a year.

When you start to make money, it does change you because you have more things—you can do more things. We’ve traveled a lot. We love to travel. We’re Christians, we’re tied very much to our church. We’ve grown in that in the past couple of years and really leaned on that because there’s hard times…[money], in many ways, makes things harder because you try and stay grounded still. We’ve tried not to make our kids really spoiled so that they don’t think they’re just going to get handed everything. My daughter Nicki, she works 11-hour days. She works. And she’s a grinder just like her dad.

On family and football: I love college kids. I love being around young people. A huge part of Urban’s job, and one of his goals, is to mentor these young men to be the best dad, the best husband, the best member of society they can be—I love being part of that. I think [the players] need to see their coach and his wife and their kids because they see their coach all the time yelling on the field and grinding them all the time…Urban kissed me on the sidelines after a practice and the players are going, “Oooooooooooo, Coach! Coach is a softie!” It’s good for them to see that when we bring our kids around, and they see that [it’s] a family program.

On being social: Urban’s not a real social guy. He knows that he has to be because that’s part of his job, and we do a lot of things and he’s great, but that’s not his favorite thing. But one thing that he loves to do when we have time is get together with our neighbors. We have awesome, awesome neighbors.

I’ve always been an extrovert. You’re not going to change that. This is who I am. I have fun. I think Twitter is hilarious. I think people on Twitter are hilarious. I love people. I’m a psychiatric nurse, for God’s sake. All I do is help people problem-solve, help them with their social issues, their personal tragic situations, real life stuff. I will be a miserable person if I have to just hole up in my house and just hide, and I can’t be out interacting with people—we’re not meant to be that way. We’re meant to be social creatures. And I love people, and for the most part people are great to me. Not one person who knows me has been one of the people who’s slammed me. Never. And Urban, too. We’ve never lost a friend because he said horrible things online about Urban. No, it’s not the people who know us at all…

On the hardest part of being a coach’s wife: The radio shows, the newspaper articles, the writers who hate you for some reason, and they can just print whatever they want, and everybody takes it like it’s the Bible, like it’s true. And you’re sitting there reading this thing and you’re going, “That absolutely is not true, and I’m the one who’s living this.” And this is some writer down in Orlando writing things he has no idea about, and it’s his own opinion, and they take his own opinion for truth. And then that person who writes that awful, horrible slander about you has no accountability. He never has to come back and say, “I printed something a month ago and it wasn’t true, and it was really kind of mean about Urban Meyer.” They never have to come back and say that, ever…I hate the personal attacks—I hate when Urban’s personal character is getting attacked when I know what kind of guy he is. I hate he’s called a liar when I know he’s not a liar. I hate when people say he faked his health problems at Florida when I know he did not fake it. How can you say that when you’ve never met him? You don’t know him, you’ve never met him, and you’re saying these awful things…We’re humans. You hate to have awful things written about your family or husband.

On the dangers of football: Ohio high school football isn’t what it used to be. Urban’s been talking about that a lot in recruiting. People get mad because he doesn’t recruit more Ohio kids. Well, it’s not what it used to be. There aren’t the players that [there] used to be because there are so many kids who are playing lacrosse now or something that’s not as hard on their bodies. I keep wishing that [her son Nate] would come to us and say, “You know what, I just want to play baseball.” I’m wishing for him to say that. I love football and I have fun watching him, but I’m so scared that he’s going to get an injury that’s going to have deficits…I hate it that he loves it, but he absolutely loves it. He loves playing. And Urban keeps telling me, “Sorry, you don’t win this one, he’s all in.”

Urban feels the same way, actually. He admits it. If Nate didn’t want to play football, he would be fine with it. He loves it that he’s playing, but if he said he didn’t want to, he would be fine because he worries about head injuries and major injuries, too. He’s seen it.

And everybody’s trying hard to decrease the danger of [football], but I don’t know how much you can. I mean, even look at Kosta [Karageorge, an OSU player with a history of concussions who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound last month]. Some of our players said that he had concussions that he didn’t tell staff about. What do you do about that? You can’t know. You have 105 kids out there, or 60 running around—if he bounces up and goes right back in, you don’t know…we’ve got to get players to be able to admit that they’ve been dinged. They’ve got to understand that that doesn’t mean they’re weak. That means their brain needs to be saved…

On program discipline: When players get in trouble, it just crushes you. [Especially] because those coaches feel like they do a really good job with those kids—it’s not like they’re not getting educated about how to not be arrested. And I always ask this question: how hard is it not to get arrested? I’ve never been arrested. Am I really good because I haven’t been arrested? [laughs] So are we supposed to have players at our house every night so we can watch them 24/7, keep them out of bars, keep them away from girls—what’re we suppose to do?

On whether college football has gotten too big: In the end, it’s a game. It’s entertainment. Urban’s an entertainer—it’s why coaches are getting paid so much. I’ve had very awkward moments a couple of times when I specifically remember a teacher got on a soapbox about how poorly paid she is and teachers are so important. And they are. I totally agree—teachers are so important. Probably more important than a football coach coaching football. A doctor is more important that a football coach coaching football. A doctor saves people’s lives—you can’t even [compare the two]. But I’m like, “I’m sorry—I can’t help it.”  People are buying the tickets. There’s a demand. People love college football. We just won the attendance record this year. What do you want me to do about it? I agree with you, but I can’t do anything—stop buying the tickets and then we’ll get this thing calmed down. It’s not happening.

On Urban’s first retirement and the future: I know next time he’ll be ready to step down. Next time it’s over, it’s over because he’s seen what it’s like not to coach…I know he has some things he still wants to accomplish, and he still wants to affect kids’ lives. That was a big part of it. He missed the players. He missed mentoring. When he finally makes that decision, I know that he’s going to have a plan for what he’s going to do. The last time when he took that year off, it happened so fast that I was like, “What is he going to do all day?” Because I know he can’t lay around, ever. Even on vacations…there wasn’t really any time to make a plan because it wasn’t really the way he wanted it all to happen. He didn’t want to have to stop coaching, but he felt like he had to. And he did need to. He had to press pause. And unfortunately, the only way to do it was the way he did it. Now looking back, he wishes it wouldn’t have gone that way, but there were issues and he had to fix them…I think it was great. It was humbling. The whole reason why he got into that situation was because of his control—his issue of controlling everything. He can’t control everything, everybody, every situation. So he learned a lot about that. And he also learned to have downtime. He learned how you can have downtime. It was great.

On coming home: The best thing is we grew up here, and it’s especially great for Urban. He has loved the program since he knew what Ohio State football was. It was a dream that he never thought would be reality, that he thought he would coach here. Ever. And we just never thought this job would be open…I didn’t only gulp [when Tressel was fired]. I was like, “Oh no, please no”…I knew he was going to get the call, and I really deep down knew he couldn’t say no, even though I didn’t want him to go back to coaching. But I love Columbus. It feels like a real city. And you can’t ask for better support for a football team either. We had great support with the Gators, of course—those fans just love their team too…[but] the Buckeyes are the biggest program in the state. And that’s really pretty cool. Everywhere you go, everyone you know knows about the Ohio State Buckeyes.

On perspective in sports:  I look at fans who let it ruin their week when their team loses a game and I don’t understand that. I go to Children’s Hospital and I’m on the terminally ill floor, and I see kids who are so sick, and all I can think about is, “OK, tell me your life is ruined for a week because your team lost a football game and you want my husband fired.” And then you have these poor parents who have a child who is going to die from a brain tumor. That’s real life. Football is football, and when I finally grasped that about four years ago, I quit letting it ruin my day because I got so sick of being so upset and mad when we’d lose. We’ve never been fired for losing games yet, so we’re OK. I went to the food bank last night and helped homeless people shop for free food. Those things should maybe interfere with your good time you’re having during the day because then you see people who are really struggling. So I’ve found perspective, and that’s the thing that’s helped me deal with the bigness of this profession and this game and how important it is to people. There’s so many other things that are so much more important. 

Shelley Meyer teaches spinning at Premier at Sawmill Athletic Club.

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Interview Issue

The Interview: Christina Basham

Mixologist / Entrepreneur Even at a young age, Christina Basham carried with her the ingredients for success in the service industry—a gregarious nature, formidable attention to detail, an amiable personality, and the mouth of a goddamn sailor. Basham gives me the grand tour of the winding Middle West Spirits distillery, detailing the various applications of [...]
Danny Hamen



Mixologist / Entrepreneur

Even at a young age, Christina Basham carried with her the ingredients for success in the service industry—a gregarious nature, formidable attention to detail, an amiable personality, and the mouth of a goddamn sailor.Basham gives me the grand tour of the winding Middle West Spirits distillery, detailing the various applications of the towering bronze stills that inhabit the prodigious space. Her golden locks flow feverishly down her ‘90s-style, cocktail-peppered shirt as she explains the real difference between regular gin and dry gin while pouring me a 100-proof taster straight from the elephantine still. As the Sales Manager, former Brand Ambassador, and master Mixologist (and I don’t use that term lightly) at Middle West, it’s Basham’s job to know her shit.Basham has racked up over 15 years of experience in the service industry, from shaking drinks at local dives, managing the beloved but departed Wall Street Bar and Buckeye Bourbon House, and hosting her uniquely inspired craft cocktail pop-ups, to judging prestigious cocktail competitions. A Goliath of her trade who has put in her time and moved up the ranks, Basham’s eyes are now fixed on the position of president of the Columbus chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild.The relationship between the ingredients in your glass and the person shaking them isn’t always important, but it’s almost always interesting. The folks who expertly distill, produce, blend, pour, and/or create your delicious intoxication juice are more than just faces behind a bar—they are influential figures representing the best our city has to offer.
“I felt like, to the world, I never made a lot of sense. This is a place where I can live in all of my weird, and I was supported. People are into it.”
What experiences helped sharpen your teeth in the industry?Christina Basham: The answer is twofold—I was 21 when I started working at Applebee’s. I wanted to go back to school, so I started serving, eventually moving behind the bar. I still remember that they made us wear these horrible pink and purple t-shirts that said “Half-and-Half Happy Hour” where half of the letters were garnishes. I just remember thinking, “What did I do…. This is not who I am.” I was a young, queer-identified woman working alongside a lot of people who were, well… not that. And it was very challenging.What really cut my teeth in the industry was years of working corporate turn and burn and managing a nightclub [Wall Street] that served as the last stop on the train for many people—the people you see at their absolute darkest moments, their most booze-induced moments. Then I moved to Denver in 2011 for a relationship that didn’t work out. I interviewed for a job for the Edible Beats group. I didn’t have the chops just then. It took four to five months, but I got there. The leveled of curated hospitality in that space and attention to detail was something I had never seen before and I was in love. This is what I was waiting for.But when I moved back home, I didn’t have the network. Sure, I had the gay kids, the turn-and-burn kids, and the club kids, but I didn’t have the fine dining and craft cocktail kids. I needed to create a secondary network that let me be that part of who I really was.How did that relationship building begin?CB: I was working at Barrel 44. At that time, we were voted best cocktail list, and I was so curious because at that time they were still putting club soda in their Old Fashioneds. I remember them looking at me like I’m a crazy person for shaming them because I had come from Wall Street nightclub where I only poured three styles of flavored vodka into a glass.The turning point was working at the Kitchen at German Village. Anne [Boninsegna] and Jen [Lindsey] very quickly became family to me, two older sisters I never knew I needed. I had access to all of these ingredients I’d never had before, and they just let me do what I wanted.Over the course of two years, I split my time between selling and organizing events, organizing the bar, and bartending two or three events a week. That’s when I decided to join the US Bartenders Guild.You decided to throw in the bar towel and start in sales for Middle West Spirits. How do you think they stand out from other distilleries?CB: We are the first post-prohibition distillery in Ohio. It’s even cooler when you consider prohibition started in Westerville. I think we are honest about what we do. Every drop we make is made here. We source our wheat from Ohio, the same place that Ritz, Pillsbury, and Donatos get their wheat from. It’s funny, nobody who originally invested in the company is from here; they just fell in love with the state and decided to move. There is something great about drinking local— putting money back into the city and the local economy. I don’t think any brand loves the agriculture in this state as much as Middle West.Columbus has seen a renaissance recently in the way of spirits and cocktails. Why do you think cocktails are an important part of Columbus culture?CB: Cocktails allows creatives to live in a space where they can really shine. You’re giving them a stage to be expressive. That is what is so amazing about food and beverage and hospitality is that people can be who they really are. I love feeling a part of the underdogs, that secret society. Even though there is a bit of a chip on your shoulder, there is something sexy about that, ya know? I felt like, to the world, I never made a lot of sense. This is a place where I can live in all of my weird, and I was supported. People are into it. Craft cocktails have made us relevant on a national level. People like Annie Williams Pierce and Alex Chin, these people who have competed and done really well. When you compete, you are just a name and a city. It’s not just you.What is the difference between a good drink and a great drink?CB: I think the service is the catalyst for the drink. That and intentionality. You can serve a highball cocktail, but if it’s served with intentionality, it’s just different. You can feel it and sense it. There’s just a level of exceptional…. Something that makes it different. Of course when it comes to cocktails, fresh juice over frozen, quality ingredients—you can’t take a great recipe and put a shitty vodka in it, it’s just not going to be the same. People are simplifying nowadays. You don’t get a high five for adding 17 styles of bitters in a cocktail. Nobody cares. It’s booze, it’s not rocket science.Tell me about Bubbles and Agave.CB: I’d always hoped for more time to do private cocktail events and at-home cocktail classes. I really love all of that stuff, and I’ve been doing it as a side hustle for years. Once I was able to balance my work life and home life with my job at Middle West, in October I got a surge of energy and said, “I’m gonna do this.” So I filed my LLC and I’m working on getting the website up. Basically I come and do craft cocktail classes—I bring the tools, everything you need. I love empowering people to make the most of their home bar. Going out and dining is amazing, but it’s not the most friendly to your budget. If you can figure out how to make a simple syrup at your house and get really creative, or if you can feel comfortable mixing drinks, it’s an amazing feeling—like knowing that you have secrets in your pocket. If I can send people home with that feeling, well, that is what really really excites me.Look for Basham’s website,, coming soon!
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Interview Issue

The Interview: Nicole Kraft

Journalist / Teacher / Innovator It’s the day of the interview and I’m scrambling to make sure I’m ready. Is my recorder ready and charged? Yup. Do I have my list of questions? Check. A little mint gum before the interview? It’ll be gone before I start my questions. Extra pens just in case mine [...]
Mitch Hooper



Journalist / Teacher / Innovator

It’s the day of the interview and I’m scrambling to make sure I’m ready. Is my recorder ready and charged? Yup. Do I have my list of questions? Check. A little mint gum before the interview? It’ll be gone before I start my questions. Extra pens just in case mine dries out? I got ‘em.A great book about the art of interviewing, Always Get The Name Of The Dog: A Guide To Media Interviewing, once taught me to always show up to an interview at least 10 minutes early. Whether you’re a person who is always late, or just need a few moments to set up, it’s always best to beat your interview subjects to the location. It sets a level of professionalism and lets your subjects know you respect them and their time.These are all things that you should do in good practice as a writer or journalist. So you can imagine my embarrassment when I arrived to Panera 15 minutes early to find Nicole Kraft, author of said book, sitting at a table, checking emails, sipping coffee, and patiently awaiting my arrival for the interview. But what else would you expect? She quite literally wrote the damn book on interviewing.
“I don’t know who said it, but they said, ‘If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ And I’ve never worked a day in my life.”
Giving Kraft the title of just author is not only disingenuous, it’s a disservice. Beyond publishing her digital interviewing book Always Get The Name Of The Dog in 2013 as well as a lengthier and updated print version set to release in January of 2019, Kraft is a communications and journalism professor at Ohio State. As an Apple Distinguished Educator, she spearheaded the arrival of iPads for freshmen on OSU’s campus. She’s the director of the Sports and Society Initiative. She’s an active writer for The Columbus Dispatch and the Associated Press. She specializes in media law and ethics, and she’s a mother and wife. It might seem like Kraft sleeps standing up with her eyes open so she can be ready for the next task to conquer. But to her, the high workload never feels like a chore because she’s able to do the things she wants to do.“I don’t have any hobbies; everything I do is a hobby in its own way,” Kraft explained as she finished up working on a lesson plan for the Spring semester. “I don’t know who said it, but they said, ‘If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.’ And I’ve never worked a day in my life.”Whether you want to call it a labor of love, a hobby, or a job—one thing is for certain—Kraft is a go-getter. From the ripe age of eight, she had already began printing her own local newspaper, “The Bicentennial Times,” that she would hand out to neighbors as she was dressed as Betsy Ross. Once in high school, she said she watched All The President’s Men and was instantly set on becoming an investigative journalist. This flash of insight led her to becoming an editor with her school newspaper, a dream internship with the Philadelphia 76ers, and was eventually what brought her from the West Coast to Columbus.But the move to Columbus wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Kraft’s husband, Brian, wasn’t too keen on the idea of moving from the West Coast to the East Coast. Initially, Kraft was hoping to land a job in New Jersey with Hoof Beats, which she had read avidly since childhood. She knew she was perfect for the position as she had spent her life around horses. So, she submitted a letter and resume, and took her shot. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you are Brian), a move to New Jersey wasn’t in the cards. But through the application process, Kraft’s name was forwarded along to an editor who found her an associate editor position in good old midwestern Columbus, Ohio.In Brian’s defense, Nicole wasn’t exactly thrilled about Columbus at first either.“When I came here for my interview, I flew from the San Francisco Airport—I’m from Napa Valley—into Columbus and the flatness of it…. I cried when I got to the hotel that night,” she recalled. “I called my husband like, ‘It’s so flat here!’ ”It didn’t help that when the Krafts first moved into Clintonville in 1995, it was still dry. Needless to say, there was some culture shock. But after 24 years in the community, she said she doesn’t see herself anywhere else.“We swore we’d only be here for two years; that was it. And now I don’t think we’ll ever leave.”This little anecdote about her career path is another example of an on-brand moment for Kraft. She’s always wanted to do whatever she wants to do, and her way of achieving this goal is relatively simple: put yourself out there.
“I always say yes. I never believe I can’t. And that’s the type of things I tell students all the time: ‘Just say yes. What’s the worst that can happen?”
“I always say yes. I never believe I can’t. And that’s the type of things I tell students all the time: ‘Just say yes. What’s the worst that can happen?’ If I send him a letter and he says no, the worst thing that can happen is he said no,” Kraft explained about the Hoof Beats application process.That’s how the process went for her second installment of Always Get The Name Of The Dog, too. The first book was put together after she had been trained on how to use iPads. It was a chance for her to play around with the technology, try something new, and show people how to engage in meaningful one-on-one conversations. The second book, however, materialized simply because she was asked to turn it from a digital book into a print book. Her response? “Yeah, of course. That sounds awesome, I’d love that.”(Even better: she bought copies for her class so students don’t have to shell money out of pocket to gain access to the information.)While most of the world looks at mobile devices and social media as a plague that is destroying millennials and other generations alike, Kraft sees them in a different light. Her expertise includes mobile technology and iPad learning, and her classroom model incorporates a little bit of everything. Instead of a roll call attendance policy, students check in using a hashtag via Twitter. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll often see her retweeting articles posing ethical questions to students, or simply tagging a tweet as #osunewsclass to generate conversation. She also uses a “flipped classroom” where students read and watch videos at home, then come to class to discuss, displacing the lecture time traditionally spent in class.“When I first started teaching, I didn’t come from academia, so I think that [it’s] different that I came from that real-world setting. I tried to be the professor that I wished I could’ve had, which is somebody who recognizes that the world is important, and that education and the things we do in education have to mirror the world to a degree, and we have to integrate it,” she said.She’s also a huge advocate of using social media for more than just memes and Tasty cooking videos.“When we ignore what is real and what’s in front of us—you know the fact is three-quarters of this [Panera] are on social media—that’s where people live, that’s where social networks are made. It’s not called a social network for nothing,” Kraft said, gesturing around the room. “By excluding it from a classroom experience, we’re really cutting students off from a main pathway that they have both to communication and socialization. The other big part is they are going to use it. I have to teach them in my view to use it for good and not evil, and to realize how beneficial it can be for them.”That being said: it’s not strictly all work and no play for Kraft on social media. Before each semester, she searches her students on social platforms to get a better idea of who they are, while also pointing out that most of the information they post is accessible by anyone, including potential employers. It’s great for feeling out what the class roster will be like, and it does shock students when she pulls out little factoids about them from when they posted a one-off status in high school.As a former student of Kraft’s classes, I can attest that the lessons she teaches are worth more than their weight in gold. Going into my final semester at Ohio State, I needed an internship in the worst way. Of course, Kraft had an answer. A little magazine published by (614) Media Group (maybe you’ve heard of us?) named 1870 Magazine was looking for student writers for the summer of 2017 and she forwarded my name to the editor. Now it’s 2019, and I’m still using all the tools she gave me to tell stories for (614) and serve as editor-in-chief of 1870 Magazine.I also remember nearly every fresh writer in her class wanting to feature her and all she does for the university and the city, but those pitches were always met with a stern no. But from hearing her war-like stories, seeing her enthusiasm, and catching her infectious drive, can anyone blame a young writer for wanting to tell Kraft’s story? There’s no question here: she had a story that needed to be told. It just had to be done in the right manner.Well, Nicole. Life has gone full circle. I’m no longer in your class, but I’m still pitching story ideas to write about you. And this time, I got the green light.Read samples of Nicole Kraft’s articles about Columbus at
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Interview Issue

The Interview: Carter Stewart

Carter Stewart isn’t your average crimefighter, and he’ll surely shun the description as much as he defies the stereotype. Following a career watching broken systems contribute to incarceration, the former US Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio left government service to become a full-time mentor for the social enterprise sector. Riding a borrowed desk [...]
J.R. McMillan



Carter Stewart isn’t your average crimefighter, and he’ll surely shun the description as much as he defies the stereotype. Following a career watching broken systems contribute to incarceration, the former US Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio left government service to become a full-time mentor for the social enterprise sector. Riding a borrowed desk at the Columbus Foundation, he’s a one-man Midwest outpost for the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. He’s also been recruited and charged with identifying worthy causes and applying Silicon Valley ingenuity to philanthropy-focused businesses—all to the tune of more than $100 million.Imagine if instead of investing in capes and cowls, Bruce Wayne spent a fortune funding innovative approaches to solving long-standing injustices?Not exactly cinematic, but far more effective by addressing the underlying circumstances that foster it. The shortage of services, access, and advocacy are all predictable indicators for both victims and perpetrators. Equipped with the insights and instincts of a prosecutor weary of always being on the receiving end of avoidable tragedies, Stewart shares his experience and expertise with fellow do-gooders, guiding them from shaky startups to scalable success.We first met a few months back at Roosevelt Coffeehouse, itself an anchor for the local social enterprise movement. Overdue for a follow-up cup, we discussed the future of “purpose beyond profits” and why Columbus is the perfect incubator for ideas that really could change the world.A career in criminal justice isn’t the typical résumé for a social justice champion. You’ve seen the world through an entirely different lens. How has your work as a US Attorney informed your search for solutions through social enterprise?Carter Stewart: It’s not uncommon to leave law to go into the nonprofit sphere, but it is uncommon to leave prosecution. The only other US attorney I know who has done it is in Pittsburgh. I actually surveyed colleagues at the DOJ to see if anyone else had done this, and he was the only one. My desire to help is based on what I’ve seen as a prosecutor as much as my childhood experiences growing up in the South, in Atlanta. So many of the people my office prosecuted came from broken systems—school systems that weren’t adequate, housing situations that were poor. So many people in state and local jails suffer from mental health issues, addiction issues. I felt that if we could fix those broken systems, it would reduce the number of people who end up in the criminal justice system.
“Not all tension is bad, and there can be positive creative tension between traditional businesses and social enterprises.”
Social media and social enterprise seem to have come of age at the same time. There’s not a mutual dependency, but an undeniably growing parallel between purpose and purchase. What trends in digital connectivity distinguish successful social enterprises from those that fizzle out?CS: I can’t say there’s one pattern, but there is recognition of the importance of social media, especially for start-up organizations that don’t have a big budget and want to spread the word as far and wide as possible. Everyone we fund has to have a website. It sounds obvious, but they have to have something up and running. But we still have some organizations that are spread more by word of mouth. ROX, Ruling Our Experiences, is a good example. It’s a program that teaches girls leadership, entrepreneurship, self-defense, self-awareness. The 20-week program is spread, mostly in-person, by the founder, Dr. Lisa Hinkelman, speaking at conferences to school counselors—who then google it. It’s the second bite at the apple. They hear from her first, then they learn more online and decide it’s something they want to pursue. But our organizations aren’t limited to the US, and some are dependent on social media to work. But where it’s critical for everyone is funders, who are more likely to research an organization before contacting it directly. They don’t want to raise hopes or expectations too early. It’s interwoven and social entrepreneurs recognize that.There can be friction between traditional nonprofits and social enterprises serving the same cause. Ideally, raising awareness creates a larger pie, and everyone gets a bigger slice. How should social enterprises answer the concern that they’re competing for the same donors and dollars?CS: There is perspective among some funders that there are too many nonprofits—to solve education, to solve poverty. Instead of creating new ones, we should improve and, perhaps in some cases, combine the ones that we have. There’s a degree of creation exhaustion. I happen to disagree. You need constant creation and rebirth, new ideas cycling in. Traditional nonprofits that have never considered the social enterprise model might feel threatened by that new entity going after the same funding dollars. In an ideal world, the new entity inspires the older entity to change and to grow. I consider the YMCA one of the oldest social enterprises in the country because they have a revenue stream. You pay for membership. So even though most nonprofits haven’t had that revenue stream, social enterprises have been around. It’s just been a small slice. I haven’t heard traditional nonprofits wishing social enterprises would go away as much as how can they be more like them and less dependent on philanthropic capital. And I think social enterprises can learn from nonprofits, their leadership structures and governance models. It’s a dynamic evolution that will hopefully lift everyone up.Traditional businesses can also feel threatened by social enterprises. We don’t just vote every four years for president and every two years for Congress. We vote every day with our wallets. How to both kinds of businesses build brands that inspire their customers to become agents of change?CS: That competition should help businesses recognize the importance of having a second bottom line. Maybe not a social mission, but a mindset of corporate citizenship. That’s what drives people to Roosevelt Coffeehouse. They know when they spend money, the company does good things with it. It’s a brand they feel good supporting. Not all tension is bad, and there can be positive creative tension between traditional businesses and social enterprises. Draper Richards Kaplan has someone on staff with whom we connect all of our entrepreneurs, to understand that communications is how you reach people, but branding is more, and an essential part of our process. Some folks come with more savvy than others, but in addition to helping build capacity they’re also building a brand. It’s something you should do in the early stages of your organization, so it becomes ingrained in your DNA.The Midwest often gets overlooked when it comes to venture capital, despite our academic credibility, technological capacity, and desirable test market demographics. What does the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation see in Columbus that many still miss?CS: We’re a particular type of donor. Not all donors look for what we look for, most don’t. Most foundations I know won’t fund an organization unless they’ve been around for four or five years. And they don’t always look for organizations with the potential to scale. They look for organizations that are well-run, already likely to survive, and succeeding in their mission. We look for organizations at an earlier stage, those that have finished a pilot and want to go big….We look for ideas that have the potential to disrupt, to change broken systems, and not many funders share that desire. But in Columbus, there’s a hunger for it. Social enterprise is a buzzword, and they’ve been in Columbus for years before I got here. But 75 percent of funding still goes to the East Coast and the West Coast, and that’s a huge oversight. People were looking for mechanisms to get national funding to Central Ohio, to build and scale the organizations that are here and those just getting started. There’s a synergy between governments and businesses, nonprofits and social enterprises. It’s an enthusiasm and pride many on the coasts don’t realize is here. I was once one of those people. I lived in New York and California. It was my wife who decided we were moving to Columbus 13 years ago, and I still tell people it’s the best decision I never made.For more on social enterprises and the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, visit
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