Get to know

OUR team

Get to know

OUR PEOPLE

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

OUR staff

OUR BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Join the movement.

A lot goes into building a community, and we wouldn’t be where we are now if we’d tried to go out and do it alone.  There’s still a lot more that we want to do, so we’re always searching for more people to build with us. Click the button below to see out latest career  opportunities.

OUR PARTNERS

© 2021 All Rights Reserved

ALLEN WOODS

CoFounder & CEO

Allen Woods is a devoted husband, father, and entrepreneur – in that order.
 

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.

ALLEN'S FAVORITE THINGS

GREEN LABEL ART X MOUNTAIN DEW COLLECTION
I remember back in 2007 when I bought my first bottle at a random gas station in Indianapolis. I loved the usage of these new "canvases" and the way that Mountain Dew was shining the light on new artists. I now have the full collection of about 30 bottles on display in my home. Art should be accessible.
AUTOGRAPHED COPY OF 'SONGS OF MY PEOPLE'
I got his on the day that I met Gordon Parks. We talked, he signed my book - but he did so much more than that.. he sparked something in me that made me want to pursue becoming a photographer.
SPIKE LEE
Next to Gordon Parks, this man has provided the most creative inspiration for me. To this day, Do the Right thing is still my favorite movie, but what I like most about Spike is his fearlessness. The ways that he's used his films to challenge traditional narratives is brilliant. I look forward to the day when he and I will be working together on a film.
OFF-WHITE CAROLINA JORDAN 1s.
First of all, the Jordan one is one of my favorite shoes of all time (also the LeBron 15, but this isn't about that). This specific version of the shoe was a collaboration with Virgil Abloh, who has been making quite a name for himself in recent years and continues to change the game in the art & streetwear worlds.
SONY A7III
I've been shooting with Canon cameras since I was a kid, so for me, switching over to a new system was a big deal. I have to say that I haven't regretted it for ONE second. I love what this camera has allowed me to do with my portraiture, and look forward to diving into shooting more film work soon.
SONY GALAXY WATCH
I'm lightweight a techie - but a minimalist too. I find a good piece of tech and I hold on to it for a while, avoiding the trap of getting the new whatever everytime they drop one. I do, however, really enjoy having my Samsung Watch. It's helped me to eliminate the desire for having too many watches - and I like that it's a separate stand-alone device that doesn't have to be connected to your phone.
THE JOURNEY
Traveling is kind of a new thing for me. I love to hop on a plane and connect with different people, foods, places, cultures.. (did I say foods?) I also enjoy making time to get away with my wife, Kyla, (and sometimes we might invite our kids lol) so we can create new memories.
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ROYCELLE PARKER

Office Manager

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.

ROYCELLE'S FAVORITE THINGS

FAMILY
Family is EVERYTHING!!! We have always been somewhat close even though we don't see each other often. They are true, consistent, loving, strong, and dedicated. Love them! My Children Are My Life. My Grandchildren Are My Heartbeat
GOD
My Lord and Savior who redeemed my WHOLE LIFE from destruction. I now live my life with joy, unspeakable, full of His glory!!!
OXTAIL STEW
Oxtail Stew and Peas (Beans), Chili, Pinto Beans and Rice
FRIED CABBAGE AND BROCCOLI
Favorite Vegetables: Fried Cabbage and Broccoli.
SINGING/WRITING MUSIC
HELPING PEOPLE
BINGE-WATCHING TV
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SHANNON HOOTEN

Strategic Director

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.

SHANNON'S FAVORITE THINGS

DISNEY
Being a creative, I always enjoy stories that take me to another world and make me invest in fantastical characters. When it comes to creating stories like that, Disney can't be beat.
READING
My first love was reading. It's like having your own personal movie play out inside your head. The words become worlds taking shape around you and only for you.
WRITING
Reading created worlds and characters for me that I could fall in love with, root for, dislike, and cry over. My dream is to write stories that create that same experience for my fellow book lovers.
SLEEP
Ain't nothing better. Get rest, sleep when necessary, and make your bed so it's cool when you slip in at night.
TACOS
I've loved tacos way before the Taco Tuesday trend began. Now EVERYBODY likes them? *side-eye*sucks teeth* I could eat them everyday and would never get tired of them.
ELLIE
I despised dogs up until the moment we met Ellie. She's my bestest friend who loves me unconditionally, gets excited everyday when I come home from work (or a 5-minute store run), and follows me around like I'm the most important person her life (which I guess I am :) ).
EXPLORING
New places, new people, cultures, ideas, religion... I'm interested in learning about it all. Especially with my man or my girls by my side.
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Diamyn Rembert

Indianapolis Program Manager & Facilitator

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. 

DIAMYN'S FAVORITE THINGS

BEANZ
Some people have kids and I have my dog Beanz. I consider him one of my greatest accomplishments. He’s the most loving, sweet, and kind dog you could ever have. He just knows how to put a smile on your face, and he actually smiles back!
FOOD
The moment I wake up, I immediately start planning my favorite meal, breakfast. I MUST have breakfast and I always encourage others to do the same. I also bake a family famous pound cake that changes lives. It’s an age-old recipe my granny passed down and it’s still going strong.
CRYSTALS
Fun fact, I am named after the Diamond Head Mountains in Hawaii, and I study crystals and minerals. I consider myself a self-taught gemologist and rock collector. I can identify over 250 different crystal and mineral specimens.
OUTDOORS
I love being in nature. I am super active and enjoy rock climbing, hiking, biking, kayaking and swimming.
COFFEE
Life is better lived with a drink in hand!
MUSIC
I love to throw on some old-school jams and get lost in music.
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LEXIE GRIMES

Operations Coordinator

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!

LEXIE'S FAVORITE THINGS

WINSTON
Winston may be entirely incapable of regulating his emotions… but we love him! He could play fetch for hours on end and must always know what his humans are up to. He also makes an excellent park companion.
SOUL!
This movie quickly became one of my favorite animated films. I love how it (and many recent Disney/Pixar films) challenge societal norms and ask tough questions. I tend to really nerd out while unpacking movies that offer new ways of seeing the world around us, especially ones that communicate deep themes even through childrens’ movies!
COFFEE
I’ve been a barista for about five years, and I just love the craft of coffee. As much as the beverage itself, I love the experience of coffee shops. Any time my husband and I are exploring a new city, one of the first things we find is a favorite local shop!
OBSERVING NATURE
It may be an unpopular opinion…but I think birds are so cool! During quarantine, I developed a habit of keeping a close eye on my family’s birdfeeder and taking note of the variety of species that would visit. I also just love being around trees and plants, whether that’s through gardening or going on a hike. I feel like I’m always learning through metaphors when I take time to enjoy nature.
FOOD
I love trying new foods! I also enjoy cooking and usually find it to be very grounding. My family was always experimental with foods and spices, so I think that helped diversify my palate! I also have a tattoo of broccoli, but that’s more a story of friendship than a story of food (:
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TIANNA WOODFORD

Operations Coordinator

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.

TIANNA'S FAVORITE THINGS

FOOD
There is nothing like a good meal! I love to cook and I love trying new restaurants.
POP CULTURE
I love pop culture and knowing tons of things when it comes to music, art, television, film etc.
SLEEP
Rest is a necessity and I love getting as much as I can!
READING
Getting lost in a good book is so much fun.
MY VILLAGE
From family members, to my best friends, to my chosen family. I love the people around me with all my heart.
'HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL' TRILOGY
Peak cinema. Nothing else to be said.
MUSIC
Music has helped me in literally any given situation. I will know a song from its intro, to its bridge (bring back bridges in songs) adlibs, etc.
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CASSANDRA DONNER

Design & Communications Manager

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. 

CASSANDRA'S FAVORITE THINGS

FRENCH PRESS COFFEE
I love my morning ritual of waking up, filling the kettle with water, placing it on the stove to boil and grinding my own beans.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
I've seen every episode! Rod Serling was a storytelling pioneer, and I absolutely love the allegories, twists and turns his stories consist of.
HAND WRITTEN LETTERS & POSTCARDS
Having communication to anyone available instantaneously is great, but theres nothing like receiving a hand written note or a postcard.
MY DOGS
I have two tiny dogs; Echo and Valentine. They are my babies, my travel companions and my favorite little buddies!
TRAVELING WITH LOVED ONES
I love a spontaneous road trip, or a long vacation in a far away place. Lately, my husband and I have been into woodsy camping/hiking trips with our two dogs.
CANDLEMAKING
I took up candle-making a couple of years ago and fell in love with it! I love crafting scents, cutting and weighing the wax, and designing the packaging. My house smells amazing now!
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SEAN SIMPSON

Program Manager

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, traveling with his partner Taylor, trying new locally owned restaurants and kicking it with the brothers of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated.

SEAN'S FAVORITE THINGS

MUSIC
Music - I own several bluetooth speakers, multiple pairs of headphones, a surround sound system and a record player that are all used in rotation. My weekend rituals usually consist of a trip to Shake It Records in Northside.
COFFEE
I love visiting locally owned coffee shops and sampling the various espresso blends they offer. My current favorite is Drip Lounge in Camp Washington.
FOOD
One thing about me, I’m gonna eat! There is always room in my budget for eating outand I love supporting local chef owned restaurants.
TRAVELING
The most difficult part of the pandemic for me was not being able to travel as frequently as I like. I got my passport in the mail exactly one month before the stay at home order, but I’m quickly making up for lost time.
MY NINTENDO SWITCH
I’m not a big gamer anymore, but I still enjoy evenings playing the Nintendo staples such as Legend of Zelda and Smash Bros (anyone can catch hands in that!)
SNEAKERS
I don’t know when or how it started but I am an avid sneaker collector! Some of my best memories are from standing outside of the stores overnight waiting for my favorite drops, even in -20 degree blizzardous conditions…
MY PERSON
Taylor pushes me to be better everyday. She is very passionate and her drive and ambition make me want to be a better person. I love our lazy Winter days and our epic Sunday fundays. I look forward to seeing what the future holds for us.
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AHARON BROWN

Program Manager

Aharon Brown is a father, a dedicated leader, and a passionate community builder committed to service to others. As the youngest son of a single mother, and a father himself, Aharon knows the importance of having vibrant neighborhoods for families to raise children. He firmly believes that the foundation for creating vibrant communities focuses on housing and economic development, bringing resources directly for people to use. He spent several years in the nonprofit sector working on housing access and affordability, and as a project manager rehabilitating homes for low-income families.

As Program Manager, Aharon ensures that MORTAR’s Academy programming operates to its highest capacity and that participants and alumni receive the resources they need for their business.
 
Aharon is a graduate of Miami University with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science/Criminal Justice and an Associate of Arts in Social Science. He also holds a Master’s of Community Planning degree from DAAP from the University of Cincinnati. He is currently serving as Mayor for the City of Forest Park, Ohio, the youngest ever to hold the position.

AHARON'S FAVORITE THINGS

CHRISTIAN (MY SON)
My pride and joy/mini-me is my why. He is the reason I work so hard not only for myself but as an example for him. He inspires me to continue working to build communities so that others can raise their families and thrive.
DRAWING
I love all things art and animation. I keep several filled artbooks of my work.
READING
Reading about American history and urban planning is a hobby of mine. I sometimes read 2-3 books at a time on the subject.
MY BIBLE
The first thing I do every morning is read scripture. Its a must to start my day.
MEDITATION
This is a newer hobby I've picked up since the pandemic, but I love it and try to meditate early in the morning.
JOURNALING
I keep a journal and practice gratitude daily. It helps keep my thoughts straight.
COMMUNITY SERVICE
Servant leadership is a personal philosophy of mine. I love volunteering my time to causes that are important to me.
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DORIS STOKES KNIGHT

Office Manager

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!”

 

DORIS'S FAVORITE THINGS

BEING A “GIGI” AKA “GLAMMA!"
Remember when you had kids and you thought you couldn’t possibly love anyone in life more than them? Yeah, well that’s because you had never experienced being a Grandparent! I had no idea my heart could expand any further until they showed up…they have my heart!
FAMILY, FUN, FOOD!
It just seems like these three go together. For the Stokes family, FUN and FOOD are on LOCK! We love homemade foods made from SCRATCH, just the way our Mother taught us to cook it! Singing commercial jingles and cartoon theme songs in 3 part harmony are also a part of this mix…lol!
THE WEIGHT I'M LOSING BEING ON KETO/IF!
I’ve been doing the KETO/IF program about 3 years and have had some slow but significant success. The key is to stay consistent and be intentional as to what you eat as well as what you DON’T eat! It’s NOT a diet; it’s actually a lifestyle change to make you pay attention to what you are eating on a daily basis.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND MY MINISTRY MAKING A POSITIVE DIFFERENCE IN PEOPLE'S LIVES
It’s always an honor and a privilege for anyone to let me know they’ve been impacted by my ministry. I never take that for granted but use it as a means of fuel to keep going. God be praised…
SLLEPING/LOUNGING WIITHOUT INTERRUPTION OR AN ALARM CLOCK
Enuff said…I absolutely LOVE being able to sleep until I DECIDE I want to get out of bed. Those days are HEAVEN!
MUSIC, MUSIC, MUSIC!!
Being raised on music of diverse genre’s I’m a lover of MUSIC…Jazz, Gospel, Motown and mostly old school R&B. To me it’s the BEST music on earth!
TRAVELING THIS INCREDIBLE WORLD GOD CREATED!
If you’ve ever taken a trip anywhere outside of your normal hometown, then you already know how beautiful and vast this world is. My “bucket list” consists of seeing so many things not just in the U.S. but all over the world. I’ve been blessed to see several things already. Get outside of your comfort zone and just DO IT…LIVE!
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Kala Gibson

President of the Board

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 Young

Secretary Of The Board

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

Board Member

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 Khurana

Board Member

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.

 

Robert W. McDonald

Board Member

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

Board Member

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

Board Member

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

Board Member

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 R. Simpson, Esq./MBA

Board Member

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).

Allen Woods

Board Member

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

Board Member

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

Board Member

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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