In February of 2016, MORTAR alumni (First Class) Brandon Black was awarded one of two prestigious Haile Fellowships by People’s Liberty. As a Haile Fellow, Brandon would embark upon a yearlong journey attempting to narrow the relational gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials, by connecting them through home repair projects that bring out the best in both generations. Brandon’s business, Retire Repair, is the driving force behind this connectivity. He recently completed his term and is now preparing for a DIY Prep Rally on March 25th.
What made you decide to pursue the fellowship with People’s Liberty?
I felt a very strong spiritual urging to pursue the fellowship. All signs said yes. The major signs were that I had an idea that made sense to my wife, which is a rare occurrence (mainly because my ideas are somewhat convoluted); I was encouraged to apply by the executive director of the organization where I worked at the time; and during the application process it all seemed to flow out very confidently and naturally.
What was the application process like?
The application process is a bit of a blur. It went by very fast. Two weeks. So your concept has to be clear, concise, civically engaging and pretty much ready to go. Each process cycle allows time for applicants to sign up for office hours and discuss their concept with one of the staff. Do it. Once submitted, everything is initially in the hands of the assembled jurors. If you make it to the next round, the PL staff conducts the interviews. For me, the interview was the most nerve-racking part. Another great thing about PL is that they don’t beat around the bush. Notifications happen pretty quickly once decisions are made.
Did you have access to resources through your fellowship that you may not have had otherwise?
Yes, without a doubt. People’s Liberty deservedly garners a great deal of access and attention. From the first week, I was able to enter spaces I hadn’t yet heard of and meet leaders I didn’t know were here in Cincinnati. I traveled to Baltimore and met leaders there as well. It was extremely eye-opening and the association with the Haile Foundation and People’s Liberty, while not completely ubiquitous, was undeniably an asset.
You originally came through the MORTAR program with your company Drawnversation, but then developed the Retire Repair program to pursue the People’s Liberty fellowship – how did your experience with the MORTAR program prepare you for this opportunity?
I think being involved in MORTAR has helped expose me and “my brand” to Cincinnati. I have a suspicion that there were people who liked my concept, but who were also legitimately rooting for me. I also think having some guidance with pitching my idea and engaging customers was helpful. At the end of the day, you have to go and do the work and MORTAR is really good at making sure the people that come through the program are aware of that.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from your People’s Liberty Experience?
The biggest lesson I learned was that when recruiting participants and developing processes – you have to begin with the unknown in mind. What I mean by this, is that I started building partnerships from within my own personal network. This can create a “false positive” because those people buy in for a different reason: they know and care about you. This is misleading for many reasons but mostly because those who know you are usually more patient, understanding and supportive. In my case, this led to a misunderstanding of early success as being a result of a clearly communicated message and solid framework, when I would later discover that I was just getting the “hook up” from family and friends. So the big lesson is that, moving forward, I would start by working to attract the unknowns first and foremost, because it really is a very different exercise altogether.