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Interview Issue

The Interview: Norman Whiteside

The numbers don't stack up in Norman Whiteside's favor. But at 63, with 31 of those incarcerated, he's as fresh as they come. A fantastic conversationalist. Over a breakfast of turkey sausage and scrambled eggs, Whiteside painted a wild picture of the Columbus soul heydays—his triumphs and his harrowing downfall—with a photographic memory. Names, dates, [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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The numbers don’t stack up in Norman Whiteside’s favor. But at 63, with 31 of those incarcerated, he’s as fresh as they come. A fantastic conversationalist. Over a breakfast of turkey sausage and scrambled eggs, Whiteside painted a wild picture of the Columbus soul heydays—his triumphs and his harrowing downfall—with a photographic memory. Names, dates, locations, anecdotes, came with the clarity of a man determined  to make up for lost time.

In between tales of becoming the “neighborhood Robin Hood” scamming the “kings” under the tutelage of Bill Moss in the waning years of Capsoul Records, or the decadence that ensued in late nights at Owl Studios when recording Wee’s 1977 debut, You Can Fly on My Aeroplane, he veered from the narrative to let me know Patti Labelle would gargle Tabasco before performing, how he could make French horns sound like a “bed of clouds,” or how his melodies have been lifted by everyone from John Legend to Toto. Not to gloss over Whiteside’s dark past, but it’s a story of twists and turns that’s  been told twofold. The charge of conspiracy to commit aggravated murder in the 1982 death of 18 year old Laura Carter—a Denison University student who was caught in the crossfire of a gang dispute—is something for which Whiteside maintains innocence to this day. He wasn’t there, he didn’t fire the weapon, he provided critical evidence in the case. Despite his involvement, Whiteside has served his time and more than paid his debt to a labyrinthine criminal justice system. Unfortunately it was “fate smiling down on the well-prepared.” What’s for certain is the lasting impact of Aeroplane. It stands as one of the most singular R&B albums ever recorded in Columbus post-Capsoul. Filled with slick synths, honeyed melodies, sensual orchestration, and Whiteside’s conceptual storytelling, it’s a lost psychedelic soul masterpiece that found an entirely new audience after being reissued in 2008 by Chicago’s lauded Numero Group. Since then the record has been sampled by Kanye West (giving Whiteside a Grammy nomination and royalty checks), coveted by soul collectors, and started an invested interest by fans and supporters to have him released.

Finally freed in September of last year, Whiteside wasted no time un-pausing the “continuation” of his long-dormant career by recording new material with the full support of Numero as well as playing celebrated concerts in October and on New Year’s Eve with the backing of Liquid Crystal Project. Not forgotten, it’s the rare instance in which a musician is suddenly more in demand than he is a relic remembered for nostalgic want. From across the table Whiteside sings falsetto riffs on his past glories, he can expertly mimic the voices of  Al Green and Stevie Wonder,  but seems most excited  to promote his latest creation “Wish.” In his eyes, the future is bright. His star is only now rising. What brought him to this point though, the murky spots on his timeline, are best spoken in his own words.

You came up when Capsoul was starting to shutter. Did you feel like what you were doing musically was a new beginning?

Bill and Capsoul were trying to pattern themselves after Stax and Motown. They wanted that Southern sound, with plain, clear lyrics. I was listening more to Sly Stone, Isaac Hayes, and Stevie Wonder. I loved the story concept. Sly was a genius, he was subliminal. I understood it. Stevie said when you’re writing music you have to have another way to say, “I love you.” That’s how I came up with my fairy tale concept of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina. Instead of “I love you” it’s “you can fly on my aeroplane.” Whenever I would present a song, with those departures, they didn’t get it. They thought what I was doing was way into the future.

So when it finally came time to release your first album, did you have high hopes that it would eclipse what came before it in Columbus?

Being with Bill I minimized ego. He taught me the power of radio and the power of a studio. When I heard my first song on the radio I would call in about 25 times and make a request in different voices. In the beginning I did have a lot of ego, but by the time I had access to a studio, there wasn’t any of that. I was focused and ready to make the music I was hearing in my head.

You recorded Aeroplane at Owl Studios. Again that was a different direction than your peers. How did that influence the final product?

It was by mistake. I had first asked Jackie Hogg, from the group Timeless Legend, about where to record. He had recorded at King’s Mill Recordings, but wanted to throw me off and sent me to Owl out on Sunbury Road. Now, that Sagittarius had an ego. He used to carry around briefcases that I think didn’t have anything in them. But anyway, fortunately, I had a lot of production experience from Bill. Owl wanted $25 an hour and I only had $75. I said I just need three hours and I can do everything now. I didn’t have a bass player, so I used the bass Moog in the studio. It was Sterling Smith, who went on to play with the Beach Boys. He also did the synth strings on a track. Tom Murphy (one of Owl’s founders) came down and listened to what we were working on and immediately said the session was free. It was all white guys, and they thought they could do something with what I was doing. All of the sudden I had a new round of all white friends. I’ve never been around that many white people. What I quickly noticed was that none of those guys had any prejudice or treated me as inferior. I said “let’s do this.” Next thing I know I had a MiniKorg, a string ensemble, the Wurlitzer, and a Hohner clavinet. Sterling was showing me how to set the oscillators on the Moog. I had everything I needed. It was a real education at Owl.

The album didn’t exactly take flight, but you continued to record. The street life became a priority, so did that feed into the music, or was the music something that became an escape from that, a departure?

The music was an expression of all of the things that I felt I wasn’t allowed to say. Back then it was all about the pimps and players and the big hats and the Mack. I wanted to prove that there was more than that. I was a monogamous soul. The music was the only thing the woman I was with at the time had to compete with. Each relationship I had ended because of music. The only jealousy a woman felt was because of that Wurlitzer piano. So much so, the mother of my daughters went out to Rickenbacker Airport, where I was doing a USO show, and told them she was there to take the piano for repair. She took the Wurlitzer and hid it so that I lost the contract. That piano was how we ate. I quickly understood why musicians didn’t have families.

How did you come to find out that people were rediscovering your music?

Even as I was in prison in 2008, Tom Murphy never stopped promoting me. Eventually I got a letter from Rob Sevier [from the Numero Group] asking to put out the record. I thought it was a hoax. Soon I was learning that the original record was going for $800 and the R&B Hall of Fame called it the “unknown gem” of 1977, so I agreed to give Rob an interview. The story that’s in the liner notes of the reissue, that was told over the phone 15 minutes at a time, but Rob pieced together over a few hours. I’ve never had a formal contract with Rob, but he and Ken Shipley has done everything they said they were going to do for the record. That really started to get people in my corner.

How do you mean?

The following year, right before I was to go to the parole board, [Columbus Monthly writer] Dave Ghose comes in and does a five-page spread on me and instead of writing what is usually written about an inmate and life in prison, he called me the “talented Mr. Whiteside.” I mean it did make me sound like I was Stevie Wonder meets Lex Luthor, but I was starting to be in the news more than most superstars. I was getting mail from Japan and Germany and the U.K. One guy in England wrote me a letter that started by saying, “Dear Mr. Whiteside, I hope you never get out.” I read down a little farther and he says it’s because his wife was in love with me. Come to find out they were both big fans of the record.

You’re right about the press that you received. It almost always focuses on the tales of your criminal record. Do you think that over time that has overshadowed the music?

Some people wanted to believe that just because the woman who kidnapped me was a prostitute and after that I decided to stay with her that I had become one of those guys. You can’t beat perception. We were in a relationship while she was still a prostitute, and I learned that life from all of these women around her. There was the perception that I was this criminal mastermind. When I was convicted there was this perception that I was like Al Capone or John Gotti, that I had people protecting me. But it was never like that. Now if you wanted a new face? (from there Whiteside goes into a detailed tangent about how he would draft bogus checks and phony credit cards to take from the ‘kings’) That became my ultimate fascination. That’s where the overshadowing came in. I got so absorbed, this became as musical as music itself. I was very vindictive. That went on until music left my whole scene.

Once you got inside, when did the desire to play music return?

Immediately. As soon as I got into Lucasville I found out they needed a piano player for the church. There was a sign, “No Inmates Allowed on the Piano,” but I sat down and played anyway. The preacher stopped the service and asked me to keep on playing. Pretty soon the Christians offered me protection because God had sent them a keyboard player. After that the warden got wind of the piano player and asked me to start a music program in a maximum security prison. I was the entertainment guy. The whole negativity attached to my name in the prison system changed and I became very well-loved.

Did you have any freedom to write and record your music?

There were strict rules about recording there, but every once and awhile a staff member would smuggle in a tape recorder and I would work quickly. I would send them out to people but they didn’t know what to do with them. The two songs that I just recorded, “Wish” and “I Be F**ked Up” are both over a decade old. But somebody heard it recently and said that they sounded like “right now.”

And Kanye? Have you spoken to the man?

No. Not at all. But let me put it this way. If he wants to call himself a creative genius, then that makes Norman Whiteside a super genius. You don’t create something that’s already made. It’s the one who creates it who gets the level of genius.

Since you’ve been out you’ve been busy. Is this a comeback?

I don’t want to call it a comeback. I want to call it a continuation. Comeback means you went somewhere, second chance means you did something wrong, continuation is undefined. This is a continuation.

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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

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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, bubblesandagave.com, 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

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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 nicolekraft.com/archives.

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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

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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 drkfoundation.org.

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