On the surface, we are just a few people who want to use our gifts, talents, and insights to inspire change.
Fundamentally, we believe in one of the core tenets of the American spirit: the power of a dollar and a dream
A brand strategist & business consultant who has worked with brands around the globe, Allen is a lifelong Midwesterner who’s never allowed the size of his city to place a limit on the size of his dreams. Woods cofounded MORTAR in 2014 with the mission of designing a more equitable entrepreneurial ecosystem for marginalized business owners in Cincinnati, Ohio. What was initially created to benefit small businesses in a singular neighborhood – soon became an impressive local success story that has become the blueprint for a regional expansion that will have a physical MORTAR presence in 15 cities across the United States by 2024.
Woods has participated in fellowship programs presented by Echoing Green and New Profit and been recognized as a Cincinnati Business Courier 40 under 40 Business Leader, John F. Barrett Entrepreneur Vision Award recipient, and in 2020 & 2021, Cincinnati Magazine named Allen one of the Cincinnati 300, an annual list of the city’s top 300 business leaders described as ”the most influential, the most powerful, or most impactful forces who’ve shaped the region”.
When Allen isn’t at MORTAR, he can often be found behind a camera, specializing in both digital & analog photography. The award-winning portrait photographer who has a special love for black & white film and the usage of natural light has recently added “Documentary Director” to his resume and is looking forward to doing more creative storytelling in the near future.
Allen Woods is a sought-after public speaker who has shined on the TEDx stage and has been featured on NBC Nightly News, the Black Enterprise Podcast, PEOPLE Magazine, and in INC. Magazine.
Roycelle Parker LOVES helping and supporting – PEOPLE. Even as the oldest girl in a family of six children, she assisted her mom in managing their home. She is very excited to help and support the MORTAR vision as the Office Manager, bringing a wealth of knowledge gained from over 30 years of experience in the field. She has also obtained an Accounting Degree, and is also a Bookkeeper, Certified Tax Professional, and Notary Public.
When you come to the MORTAR office don’t be surprised if you hear Roycelle “burst out” singing. She loves singing songs and writing lyrics, including poetry. She has currently has published a CD single titled, “Not Until You Love With the Love of the Lord.” She is also an entrepreneur for over 10 years providing administrative services to clients.
Roycelle is married to Reggie, her husband of 38 years. They have 2 children and 2 grandchildren.
Shannon Hooten is a Cincinnati native passionate about breaking oppressive racial stereotypes and creating and promoting safe spaces for black people to create authentically and freely. A lifelong learner, Shannon enjoys trying new things, visiting new places, and writing about them. Passionate about the creative arts, she has experimented with multiple forms of creative expression, including YA fiction writing, poetry, and copy editing. Her lifelong dream is to become a published author and open her own publishing house to support other black science fiction and fantasy writers. She is currently working on her debut novel.
As Strategic Director, Shannon Hooten is thrilled to manage MORTAR’s Strategic Plan and projects across the organization. Being a stickler for organization and thorough processes, Shannon realizes her talents for coordinating projects and reasonable timelines to guarantee success. Her current career objective is to create efficient and succinct processes to help MORTAR’s national growth.
Diamyn is a Mortar Alum, Business Consultant, Gemologist and Entrepreneur. Her mission is to help others live a less-stressful life with the helpful energy of mindfulness, crystals and intention setting. She runs and operates her own retail and online business, Diamyn’s Crystal Bar and co-owns a collaborative retail space, Pause, located in Cincinnati, OH. Diamyn combines her knowledge of learning, business consulting and entrepreneurship to help guide and support others on their journeys.
She’s a Northwest Indiana native and Indiana University Alum that has worked throughout the Midwest in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Illinois.
Diamyn has created learning and educational tools primarily for fortune 500 and fortune 10 companies, along with nonprofits and local small businesses. Her mission is to educate and provide people with the tools they need to execute and understand their jobs and roles within any organization. She’s a champion for diversity and inclusion through her commitment to drive change that invites all people on the journey to personal and economic growth and sustainability.
Lexie Grimes has a love for the creative process of entrepreneurship, and for cultivating spaces where others can pursue their dreams through this process as well. She believes deeply in the pursuit of equitable economic ecosystems, where all people can pursue their unique ideas and contribute to the holistic development of their communities.
She was initially drawn to small businesses through the avenue of local coffee shops. In these spaces, she found a place where neighbors could come to learn, gather, play, and dream. Throughout college, she dreamed of starting her own community development-focused coffee shop, and over the last several years has worked in many coffee shops in both barista and management capacities.
Lexie graduated from Johnson University with a degree in Entrepreneurship. She now lives in Cincinnati with her incredible husband, Johnny, and their dorky dog, Winston. She looks forward to starting a business someday!
As an Operations Coordinator at MORTAR, Lexie will work across all departments to assist in the implementation of our strategic objectives in the midst of rapid growth. She is excited to join in the vision and work of MORTAR!
Tianna is a Cincinnati Native whose passion for her city and the people that reside in it drew her to MORTAR. She is a Miami University Alum where she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Sport Management with a minor in Community-Based Leadership.
Growing up in the Roselawn neighborhood, she was raised by her grandparents who worked extremely hard to ensure she had every opportunity to be great. Every summer, her grandmother insisted that she learn something new which led to activities such as learning to fly an airplane, equestrian training, volunteering at various organizations. These experiences led Tianna into the non-profit space. As a beneficiary of various efforts from different non-profit orgs, she knew that she wanted to be part of something similar.
MORTAR gives Tianna the opportunity to have a hand in changing the lives of those in her community through entrepreneurship just like the organizations that changed her life by giving her different opportunities while growing up. She’s excited to lean into her new role as Operations Coordinator and can’t wait to contribute her skills and knowledge to the bigger picture.
A born and raised Cincinnatian, Cassandra graduated from Cincinnati State with a degree in Web and Multimedia Design in 2019. Fascinated by the countless ways content can be arranged to tell stories, she’s been honing her web skillset ever since. From wireframing to user testing to ideation, she is committed to creating digital content that seamlessly meets and exceeds the user’s needs and expectations. A firm believer in user advocation, she aims to anticipate and solve the question before the visitor has to ask it.
Cassandra began her relationship with MORTAR as an intern while still a student at Cincinnati State and is now proud to be brought onboard as a Design & Communications Manager. She is happy to part of a team advocating for entrepreneurs who aim to build strong, equitable communities.
When she’s not working on design, you can find her snuggling her dogs and being indecisive about what to have for dinner.
Sean is a Cincinnati native from North Avondale. Thanks to his Montessori education, Sean has always had a passion for community service, exploration and relationship building. These passions led him to venture to California where he served in the AmeriCorps NCCC program as a Team Leader. This life changing experience opened his eyes to the world of nonprofits and the impact he can make within the social sector.
After graduating with his Masters in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Wright State University, he returned to Cincinnati where he has worked in multiple industries. Through all of his different experiences, he always knew he wanted to jump back into the world of nonprofit leadership. He now serves as a Program Manager for MORTAR where he will help shape the entrepreneurial landscape for marginalized business owners.
When he is not working with MORTAR Sean enjoys bartending, spending time with his broke four-legged best friend Milo, trying new locally owned restaurants and kicking it with the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated.
Doris Stokes Knight is a native of Dayton, Ohio or what she refers to as the & Land of Funk! She comes from a musical family of SEVEN siblings; 5 brothers (one in Heaven) and ONE Sister. MUSIC was a staple in their household during her childhood years. Doris has 3 brothers who are major contributors to the sound the City of Dayton has created nationally and globally: Otha Stokes Jr. (James Brown Band, Sugarhill Gang, Ray, Goodman & Brown”), Arthur ‘Hakim’ Stokes (Platypus, Heatwave, TOUCH) and Otis Stokes (The ORIGINAL Lakeside).
Doris is a seasoned Administrative Professional that thrives in creating environments that work for everyone seamlessly. She admits being “a little OCD,” which probably contributes to her inability to exist in chaos. She feel s her greatest strengths are displayed where her organizational abilities and creativity meet. Doris first became an Entrepreneur during the economic downturn of 2009 when her job was downgraded to Part-Time and she needed to make up the difference in the income she lost. She began her own Virtual Assistant (VA) company/service and decided to utilize the talents, abilities and skills she already had to help small businesses and Entrepreneurs who didn’t have the budget or space to house their own EA/PC (Executive Assistant/Project Coordinator). She stated she is an “OG” in the VA business: “Now, due to COVID, a diversity of administrative roles working virtually has become more commonplace across industries.“
Doris has both a secular and spiritual educational background. Both support the paths she chose to take to fulfill her purposes. Her secular education began by attending Sinclair Community College with an AA in Human Services and Wilberforce University with a Major in Organizational Management. Additionally, her Biblical education consists of being a graduate of International Apostolic University of Grace & Truth Bible College with both a Masters in Organizational Leadership in Church Administration and a Doctorate in Worship Arts & Sacred Music.
Outside of work, Doris has been serving in music ministry for over 20 years. She is passionate about her calling which has led her to accomplish a diversity of things since being Ordained as a Kingdom Pastor. She is a national Gospel Recording Artist, a Best Selling published Author of 2 books, served as Worship Leader and Worship Pastor at her former church for 9 years, serves as a Worship Arts Workshop Facilitator for conferences, is a Five Time “I Hear Music In the Air Conference” WINNER for her LIVE CD project “Praise & Worship Unleashed.” She is a Songwriter, Producer and Musician who has had a television Talk Show for 13 years called “Another Way to Praise.” She is committed to using every gift she’s been blessed with to give back an to glorify God with.
Doris is married to her Husband Bruce of 13 years. She is also a Mother of TWO adult children: Son Nouri and daughter Brayanna both of whom are college graduates. They are also responsible for making her a “GiGi/Glamma” (or Grandmother).
Doris is excited to join MORTAR Cincinnati. Her prayer is to be a blessing to the mission and vision of the organization in whatever manner Allen would see fit as well as God. She would love to birth a couple of things for the specific reason of catapulting those with entrepreneurial dreams to look at MORTAR as the preferred source or “blueprint” for helping to bring their dreams into a reality. “I love MEDIA, so I would hope that I can use my experiences with this medium to help make MORTAR a force that has to be acknowledged and reckoned with. Administratively, I would also hope to make considerable deposits to continue developing and strengthening the structure of MORTAR in order for it to run like a Porsche. I’m excited just thinking of the possibilities!”
Shannon Cheek has spent the last 13 years in the insurance industry in various sales roles, including owning her own agency, but realized her chosen career path lacked fulfillment and purpose. As a person who has a heart for service and values authenticity, Shannon was drawn to the MORTAR movement. She chose to marry her high performing sales skills with the desire to help increase opportunities for black and female entrepreneurs.
A Georgia native with roots in rural Mississippi, Shannon remembers hearing stories about how her Great Grandfather was given, by his master, the land on which he was enslaved. This created opportunities and paved the way for her Grandfather to graduate from Talladega College, an HBCU, in 1932. As a young adult, Shannon truly began to realize the significance that exposure and resources can have on one’s trajectory, especially for those who are considered marginalized.
As Expansion Director, Shanon Cheek is excited to utilize her talents to extend MORTAR’s footprint to new cities throughout the country as well as build a strong community of leaders and partners in those respective cities to continue to support our Alumni.
When not challenging the status quo, Shannon can likely be found exploring new restaurants, or spending time with her partner, D’Angelo and son Kameron.
Kala Gibson serves as executive vice president and chief corporate responsibility officer. He oversees the Bank’s corporate citizenship work, which comprises Community Development and Social Responsibility efforts, including Community Reinvestment Act lending and investment; inclusion and diversity; and environmental, social and governance, or ESG, strategy, including sustainability. He serves as chairman of the Fifth Third Foundation’s distribution committee and as co-chair of the Bank’s Corporate Responsibility and Reputation Committee and Executive Diversity Leadership Council.
Kala joined Fifth Third in 2011 in Eastern Michigan as a Business Banking executive and rose to head that business. He started his career at Comerica Bank in Detroit and has more than 30 years of experience in retail, community and small business banking; middle market and asset-based lending; and credit administration.
Kala earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Grand Valley State University and an MBA from Michigan State University. He is also a graduate of the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Business and Wharton Leadership Program.
Kala was selected in 2022 to join the Executive Leadership Council, an organization committed to increasing the ranks of Black executives at major world corporations. He also serves on the boards of the National Urban League and National Minority Supplier Development Council. Kala serves on the Executive and Finance committees of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Kala is board chair of Mortar, a Cincinnati urban entrepreneurship organization, and a member of the ArtsWave board of trustees. For his civic and professional work, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber selected him among its Making Black History honorees.
Ashlee is committed to serving the community and lives by the words of Marian Wright Edelman “Service is the rent we pay for living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.”
Ashlee is able to live by those words in her personal and professional life. Ashlee was first introduced to the Urban League in 2013 as a founding member of Urban League Young Professionals of Greater Southwestern Ohio. Ashlee would later become President and serve on the Urban League Board. Ashlee continues to be active in the movement locally and nationally. Locally she is a current participate in the Urban Leader Institute, Class 26 and nationally she serves as Programs Chair for National Urban League Young Professionals.
Ben Greenberg is a Cincinnatian by birth and by choice, a passionate advocate for his city’s success, and a lifelong student of the nuances and intricacies of human experience. He studied English and Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania and earned a J.D. from NKU’s Chase College of Law before pivoting to a career as a creative entrepreneur. Ben is co-founder and partner at BS LLC, a boutique branding and marketing agency. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Mercantile Library, Breakthrough Cincinnati, and MORTAR Cincinnati.
Stephanie is a member of DRK’s Operating Committee, a leadership team that sets priorities, manages organizational culture and develops strategies for the Foundation and serves as a Managing Partner & COO of the Foundation where she plays a lead role in sourcing new investments and working with the leadership of those organizations as an operating partner and board member as they grow to build capacity and to achieve their maximum impact. As a member of the Foundation’s senior leadership team, she also helps to execute the Foundation’s strategy and goals and contributes to its thought leadership and external outreach.
Stephanie was on the founding team of Cambridge Technology Partners (CTP), a visionary startup in the tech space that went public and was one of the first entities to foresee the transformation from mainframe-centric solutions to client-server architecture and packaged solutions. She previously was Co-Founder, CEO, and Director of Surebridge, a web-based software provider that was ultimately sold to Time Warner.
She has served as Acting Executive Director at the Tobin Project, a nonprofit organization that sits at the forefront of major research initiatives that address some of society’s most pressing problems and helps transform public policy debates, inspired by economics Nobel laureate James Tobin. She currently serves on their Board of Directors. Stephanie received a “Top 40 under 40” award from the Boston Business Journal in 1999. She serves on the President’s Council of Cornell Women and is a co-Master of Cabot House at Harvard University. She has consulted with clients ranging from early-stage to established organizations in the nonprofit, technology, and healthcare sectors and serves on several social enterprise boards.
She received her BS in Applied Economics with a concentration in International Relations from Cornell University, an MBA from the Harvard Business School and an MPP from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
Rob is the Chair of Taft’s Cincinnati Business practice group where he has garnered a reputation as a leading advisor to growth-minded companies, venture capital funds, family offices, government entities, research institutions, and sports franchises. Rob is listed in The Best Lawyers in America® under Mergers & Acquisitions law, Securities/Capital Markets law, and Venture Capital law, and as a Cincy Magazine Leading Lawyer in the Emerging Company practice, and has been selected as an Ohio Super Lawyers Rising Star. Civically, Rob is the Board Chair Elect of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the President Elect of the Association for Corporate Growth-Cincinnati Chapter.
Dr. Nita Walker, MD, FACP is UC Health’s Senior Vice President of Ambulatory Services. Since 2015, Dr. Walker has provided leadership for the academic health system’s outpatient clinical practices and services located around the Greater Cincinnati region (including Northern Kentucky and Southwest Indiana). Over the past 3 years, UC Health has consolidated its clinics under one umbrella to improve quality and service. In FY18, the clinics did over 900, 000 visits in more than 30 locations.
She is a Clinical Professor in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and maintains a small clinical practice with UC Health’s Primary Care Network. Dr. Walker is board-certified in General Internal Medicine and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.
Jake Samad is a partner at Robbins, Kelly, Patterson & Tucker. His practice focuses in the areas of estate planning, probate estate and trust administration, business formation and succession planning, asset protection planning, and charitable giving. Jake works with individuals, families, and closely-held business owners to address personal planning issues, to help with the thoughtful transfer of assets from one generation to the next, and to assist business owners with advice concerning general business matters, which may include planning for the successful transition of the business. Husband to Amy, dad to Jack and Audrey, Jake lives in College Hill where he can be found helping with the development of the business district, having a beer at the local brewery or reading on his porch.
Kashif Shaikh is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Pillars Fund, an organization that is dedicated to amplifying the leadership, talent and narratives of American Muslims. Previously he was a Program Officer at the McCormick Foundation where he oversaw a portfolio of grants that focused primarily on education, workforce development and homelessness. The son of Pakistani immigrants, Kashif grew up in Cincinnati, OH which is where his love of reading and writing was born. He is passionate about building a world in which all children have the opportunities to unleash their creativity and dream big.
Yvette is the Chief Executive Officer at Democracy for America, a national progressive political organization with more than 1 million members nationwide. She the first woman to serve in this role, and the first woman of color in executive leadership. In 2018, she served as the Federal Electoral Manager for Democracy for America, helping to flip control of the US House with historic victories, including electing the most progressive and diverse coalition of candidates in America’s history. Yvette is also a Political Contributor with ABC News and a panelist on NPR’s Here and Now and 1a.
Yvette also serves as Of Counsel for Ulmer & Berne, LLP, and is the Founder & CEO of Yvette Simpson LLC, Your Power Unlocked, a strategic consulting firm focusing on politics, policy, and program development. Yvette earned undergraduate degrees at Miami University, a law degree from The University of Cincinnati, and her MBA from Xavier University. Yvette served six years on Cincinnati City Council, including four years as President Pro Tempore.
In 2005, Yvette was recognized as one of the Business Courier’s Forty under 40 and a YWCA Rising Star. In 2014, Yvette was honored as one of the YWCA’s Career Women of Achievement. Every year since 2014, Yvette has been named an Ohio Super Lawyer Rising Star, and in 2020 she was named a “Woman of Distinction” by the Girl Scouts of Western Ohio. She on proudly serves on as a board member for several local organizations including the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) and the Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses (7HNH).
Shawn Manns-Collins serves as senior vice president and Consumer Bank CFO. She is responsible for the financial oversight of the Consumer Bank and Wealth and Asset Management line of business. Previously, Shawn served as Director of Financial Planning Analysis for the Bancorp and has performed various finance roles, including Mortgage Line of Business CFO. Shawn prides herself in being a strategic thought leader, having supported and led initiatives to improve bottom-line results. Before joining Fifth Third, Shawn received her MBA from Miami University and worked as an accountant for a local company located in Bloomington, Indiana.
Shawn is involved in various community service and employee engagement activities. Shawn started the first mentoring program in the finance division in 2010. She rotated as the senior leader for the finance division community service program in 2018. Shawn also led the finance division’s Cincinnati 2018 Arts Wave and 2020 United Way campaigns. Shawn is also an ardent supporter of Cry of the Children, Inc., a local not-for profit organization (headquartered in Bloomington, IN) with a mission to “improve the quality of life for adolescents by providing programs and services that enhance and promote the development of effective life and decision making skills.” In 2021, Shawn was selected as a member of the Leadership Cincinnati 45 class, and most recently became a board member of MORTAR Cincinnati. Shawn is married and has four sons.
Allen Woods is a devoted husband, father and entrepreneur – in that order. A lifelong Midwesterner, he’s never allowed the size of a city to place a limit on the size of his dreams. Allen is the creative force behind the MORTAR brand, as well as a business consultant and training facilitator for incoming students. Recognized as a 2016 Cincinnati Business Courier 40 under 40 Business Leader, 2017 John F. Barrett Entrepreneur Vision Award and 2017 Echoing Green BMA Fellow, Woods is also a sought-after public speaker who recently shined on the TEDx stage. As a brand strategist and designer, Allen assisted directly in the growth of hundreds of small businesses and personal brands across the globe.
Derrick Braziel is a young, creative entrepreneur who is committed to the idea that all it takes to change the world is, “a dollar and a dream.” He supports MORTAR by deepening relationships with various community stakeholders while providing opportunities for external partners to support local entrepreneurs and their ideas. Prior to this, he (with the help of many!) decided to found an Indianapolis non-profit named Dreamapolis which continues to support hundreds of Indianapolis entrepreneurs. His work has led to recognition from the Indianapolis Star as “One to Watch” in 2012; he has been named to Forbes’ 30 under 30 list for Social Entrepreneurs; he’s a member of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s C-Change Class 11 as well as a BALLE (Business Alliance for Local Living Economies) Fellow.
William Thomas is a passionate advocate, born and raised in Cincinnati, OH. Always been passionate about entrepreneurship, he started his first business making and selling origami to his 2nd grade classmates, then as an adult, went on to co-launch two successful non-profit organizations. While William has certainly been able to turn his ideas into reality, he recognizes that many people have not been afforded with those same opportunities. William, in his efforts in fighting inequities, creating opportunities and driving social change, was recently recognized as one of Forbes 30 under 30 social entrepreneurs. He has spent many years working to create better systems and policies in Cincinnati and nationwide around education.
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