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Interview Issue

The Interview: Hanif Abdurraqib

What the world needs now ... is more Hanif Abdurraqib. And more Carly Rae Jepsen and more Gerard Way and more Ric Flair and more Allen Iverson, and all the other spirits and cult figures the Columbus author conjures in his new book, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. Hanif’s essays pivot from [...]
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What the world needs now … is more Hanif Abdurraqib.

And more Carly Rae Jepsen and more Gerard Way and more Ric Flair and more Allen Iverson, and all the other spirits and cult figures the Columbus author conjures in his new book, They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.

Hanif’s essays pivot from pop culture to cultural politics naturally, but suddenly—like a Barry Sanders spin move—deftly weaving the experience of today’s black man and how his experiences separate from the shared nostalgia of the white world around him. He goes from Ferguson to Jersey, a Springsteen concert overlapping with Mike Brown’s murder. The NBA All-Star game or the Super Bowl halftime show, in his words, are given entirely new value and meaning. There’s few people that can talk about pro wrestling and emo and race and inequality with equivalent credibility. He’s Lester Bangs and Kevin Powell and Stephen A. Smith and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

He’s a new narrator in a world that is always threatening to lose the plot.

And best of all, he’s ours.

Now, much more of the world gets to share the little black nerd in the Ohio hoodie with us, but when he shows up on MTV.com, or Pitchfork,  or when They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us gets dap in Oprah Magazine and on NPR, we’re not just celebrating him, but Two Dollar Radio for publishing it, and for every little local mention in it to get a little more light.

I love the chapter about Iverson and the night he crossed up Jordan. He seems a touchstone for the shared, but very different experience between white and black folks in America. Why is he so compelling to you?

I never had NBA aspirations, but I remember trying to model my subpar game after his. Practicing crossovers on leaves that had drifted to the ground on the basketball court near my house. He also refused conformity at a time when the NBA was trying to force players into a box. It’s hard to imagine now in the post-David Stern era. Players have more freedom over how they express themselves. LeBron James called the president a bum on Twitter and the NBA didn’t even blink in his direction. I love that, in part because I imagine Allen Iverson would have thrived in this era of expression. When the NBA enforced its dress code and told him to wear a suit, he stood up for himself. He said “No. Where I’m from, we wear jewelry and baggy jeans and you aren’t going to make me forget where I come from.” He paid literal thousands in fines, just to keep his hood close.

You’re dressed more like Iverson. So are CEOs. So was Mike Brown. How has fashion and its place in the language of race changed?

I don’t know if it has, really. I mean, I still walk into most rooms and I’m black first—no matter what I have on. For the first time in my life, I don’t own a tie. I have some blazers and a few nice shirts, but I don’t own a tie. If I’m home, I spend at least 40 percent of my week in sweatpants. I’m saying all of this to say that it’s the things we cannot take off that most define us when the stakes are at their highest, or most violent.

Much of your work strikes at the duality of a place like Columbus, like Bexley. When did that start to crystallize in your head, in ways you now express in your work?

I think maybe around my mid-late 20s, I became interested in what it is to love a place that doesn’t always love you back. And then, of course, what it is to love a place as a type of replacement for loving the people inside of that place. I’m still figuring that out, and I think a lot of my work is always reaching towards an unraveling of that. If there is to be injustice on every land—if the very obtaining of this land we’re all on was an injustice from the start (Christopher Columbus statue still looming downtown as we speak,) then how do we reconcile our places here? How can we best honor where we live and how we live and the people we’re sharing all of this living with? I don’t have an answer to any of that, which is great. Which is what keeps me writing and eager. Not to find answers to how to best live in a place I still work to love, but to find new ways to complicate this place that I love, and see if I can still find it within myself to love it as all of its complications are laid bare.

What’s the place in this town that still feels like “old” Columbus?

I think I have lots of old Columbuses, really. I love to pop over to the Junior’s Tacos food truck, even when I’m not that hungry. I’ll purchase a taco, sure. But I mostly just appreciate the lively conversation. The way laughter can shake the trees there. Everything at Resch’s Bakery on the eastside is still so inexpensive, almost as it was when I would go there in my younger years. If you are lucky, you can find some change in your car and walk out with a donut. I also love that you still have to take a number upon walking in. There’s something about that anticipation that I love—looking at your number and watching the screen slowly tick in the direction of your coming blessings. On the right day, I see Goodale Park as I saw it in my late teens and early 20s. Those days have become few and far between, but sometimes if the sun leaks through the trees in the right spot, it feels like I’m there, back on a blanket with my pals. I will call it Crew Stadium for as long as I can, and I believe that is a vital part of Old Columbus. I don’t know what will become of our beloved Crew, and I don’t know what will become of the stadium. But I have felt alive there more times than I have almost anywhere else. I still like to slip into a booth at Tommy’s Diner when I can. The Book Loft makes me unbearably anxious, but for some reason, my phone doesn’t get service inside of it. And so I enjoy walking into that anxious invisibility for a spell. On the blacktop of what used to be Fifth Avenue Elementary School, there’s a haphazardly drawn and colored map of the United States. My class drew it when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It’s maybe the only thing on the school grounds that has endured, save for the rusting playground accoutrements. That is my favorite bit of Old Columbus. A thing tattooed on a corner of the city’s ground from when I was small.

Of the new bits, what are the places you feel are an organically good addition to the city?

I’m obviously biased, but I love the new Two Dollar Radio store. I’m starting a monthly series there in February called “Ships At A Distance” where I pair two black artists of different disciplines and have them perform brief sets before being in conversation with each other. I think that’ll be really fun, and I love that the space is open to doing that. It has to be remembered that I just moved back home in April, and so I’m readjusting to the city as we speak. Still—it’s not brand new, but I love Si Senor. Best sandwich spot in town, for my money. The one in Grandview is not only great, but also very forgiving of the fact that I often burst in 30 minutes before they close, because I’ve lost track of (or poorly managed) my time. Since I’ve been here 95 percent of my life, “new” is kinda relative. Sole Classics isn’t brand new, but it’s newer than what I consider Old Columbus to be. And as a committed sneakerhead, I really value having one of my favorite sneaker spots walking distance from my apartment. I do think there are a lot of good organic additions, and I’d like to see more places and people holding hands with existing communities they move into, and not just trying to rush ahead in the name of some vague idea of “improvement.” I like places like Sole Classics and Spoonful Records because it feels still very community-based. I can go in these shops and have conversations with the people working there. It can feel like a city inside of a city.

Who inspires you in this town?

There’s a long list. I’m inspired by the Black Pride 4, and by young black activists. I hope to see the work of activism continue to be pushed here, and I hope to see it led by young black folks, queer black folks, black women, and intersections of all those identities. I’m really heartened by the idea of looking to people younger than me to light the way. I’m not all that old, but I am old enough to know that there is something exciting happening inside of the way young activists are looking at the world, and it serves me to get out of the way and support them how I can. I’m inspired by Scott Woods and the work he’s done (and continues to do) to bridge gaps in the black artistic community here. I’m inspired by Will Evans, who built Black Nerd Problems out the city and took it worldwide. I’m inspired by all of the Two Dollar Radio folks, and how they created and sustained a vision. But, beyond that, I’m inspired by my friends here. My dear friends who live in this city, and have lived in this city, and who have found a way to make the most out of living and loving here. Who will come over to my house for a movie night and make a late night UDF run with me and sit with me in a diner booth. I’m really inspired by the folks who have lived here for a long time and still decide to make the most of it, even through their sighing on some days. On my walk to the gym every day I’m in town, I walk by the old Union Station arch in the Arena District. And when you see something magnificent every day, it’s easy to forget its magnificence. One Saturday, I was walking by it and a guy was just standing in front of it, marveling at it and taking pictures, smiling as wide as he could. Because this is generally what tourists do upon seeing it, another passerby approached him and asked the guy if it was his first time in the city. The guy replied, “No, I live here. I can just never get over how cool this thing is.” I think that guy inspires me the most.

I feel like you’re the kind of person who has a personal timestamp for all these moving moments in pop culture. Can you think of a few that you haven’t written about?

Oh, absolutely. I will now always remember climbing the steps to an arena to watch what would be one of Tom Petty’s last shows. I remember being very young when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson. But more importantly, I remember the bus ride to school the next day. Back when buses played the radio on the ride to school, and WVKO had KC Jones on the morning show, and he was just so stunned that Tyson was knocked out. I remember not really understanding the weight of it all until hearing KC Jones on WVKO the morning after. I think all of the time about KC Jones, and how Columbus morning radio shaped me when I was younger, because it was all that got played on the bus to school. Shoutout to KC Jones, a legend.

Do you remember where you were when you found out about Trayvon? Tyre? Eric Garner? Mike Brown? Marshawn McCarrel?

I do, and there’s a series of pieces in my book about the murders of Trayvon, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice. Marshawn was really difficult for me. I lived in Connecticut at the time of his death, and my then-partner came upstairs to my office to tell me that she saw news floating around that Marshawn had killed himself. Finding out about death in the moment is always difficult, for me. I have had to endure that so much that I’ve kind of made an accelerated processing mechanism—going from disbelief to acceptance in mere minutes. I remember that on my desk in my office, I had some kind of red candy. I used to always eat candy when I wrote—a habit that I just broke this year. I stared at the candy for a long time, I think because when I saw Marshawn alive last, he had on a long red shirt. We hadn’t seen each other for a while and we hugged. It was an awkward hug, balancing both love and the tension that exists when you haven’t spoken to someone you love in a long time. I want to remember him like I knew him best, always. He was so immensely gifted. He was a better and more eager writer than poets twice his age. He’d come into the Method Gallery for the Writing Wrongs open mic and kick some shit that would make me not want to follow him. He was flawed, but singular. Like all the best of us are.

Purchase They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us at twodollarradio.com. For more of his work, visit abdurraqib.com.

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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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