One fateful day in college I was introduced to a quote by author Stephen Gould that completely changed my life. He wrote, “I am somehow less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.”
In my opinion, this quote speaks to a vision of a world where genius is something that surrounds us; from the person working at your local coffee shop, to people who are homeless, in prison or any other historically marginalized population. The revolutionary idea embedded in this quote gnawed at my spirit, because I began to imagine a world where anyone – with the right combination of hard work, access to resources and a little luck – would be able to pursue their dreams and use their talents to not only make a dollar, but to change the world.
This journey first took me to Indianapolis in 2009, where I co-founded Dreamapolis, an organization dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs of color through a crowdfunding event Pitch Feast. It was here that I met Allen Woods. He moved to Cincinnati with his wife, Kyla, and I soon also followed for love. While his relationship fared much better than mine, I saw the same possibilities in Cincinnati that I first observed in Indianapolis. This is a city brimming with creative talent, and I wondered if it would be possible to create a space for non-traditional entrepreneurs to access the tools and resources necessary to pursue their dreams.
Insert William Thomas, my best friend for ten years and co-creator on a variety of projects. The three of us teamed up and the idea for MORTAR was created. You should ask Allen about our first meeting together – to say it was awkward would be an understatement!
I’m writing this blog because today is an interesting day for me, as I am honored to have been selected to join the 2019 Obama Foundation Fellowship Class. This group includes 20 outstanding social entrepreneurs from across the world who are committed to addressing pervasive social and societal issues.
My heart is both overwhelmed with joy and humbled (read: terrified) by this opportunity. Derrick Braziel, the son of two first-generation college students, born in Ohio and raised in Northern Virginia, accepted to participate in this prestigious opportunity. It’s hard to find the words to adequately describe how I’m feeling. I do know that none of this would have been possible without the countless people throughout my life that have provided encouragement, support, critical feedback, and most importantly, love.
My family has been with me every step of the way, never allowing me to give up on my dreams. My brothers in creative problem solving, Allen Woods and William Thomas, are two of the most talented guys on Earth, and I hope we can continue showing what it looks like when Black men work together towards a common goal and purpose. The MORTAR team, our alumni and family of supporters; including donors, partners, and more, have come together to show the rest of the country that not only is Cincinnati the most exciting place in America, but that true social change is possible when people come together.
Cincinnati has provided the space for us to bring Stephen Gould’s quote to fruition, as MORTAR is opening doors for non-traditional, historically marginalized and underserved entrepreneurs who are starting businesses, changing neighborhoods, and making a difference.
There is still much work to be done, as in many ways, our world now sometimes feels like a place that has lost its ability to dream. It is in times like these that we must continue in our belief in one another and work even harder to ensure that we create spaces where any and all of us can pursue our dreams.
If you’d like to support the work of MORTAR and our mission to open doors for non-traditional entrepreneurs, consider donating to our work by clicking here: https://secure.givelively.org/donate/mortar-cincinnati
If you’re unable to, no worries, we also accept donations in positive vibes. We’re going to need it, as we have committed to supporting 1,000 entrepreneurs of color through 2021. We want to take our model to cities all across America where, like Cincinnati, genius is overlooked and underserved. We want to create a society where both opportunity and talent are equally distributed.
I invite you to join me along this journey through my Obama Fellowship and beyond.
Thank you, again, for the love and support over the years. As President Obama once said, “the future rewards those who press on.” So, to the next 50 years, let’s press on in our hopes of making the world a better place.