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

OUR PARTNERS

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ALLEN WOODS

Executive Director

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.

His determination (or stubbornness – as his mom would call it) has allowed him to develop a resiliency that has grown with him on his entrepreneurial journey. 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.

When Allen isn’t at MORTAR, he’s probably somewhere with his wife, Kyla, planning or recording the next episode of their brand new marriage podcast, Permanent Plus One.

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

Retail & Events Manager

Shannon Hooten has been writing since she was twelve years old and woke up from a vivid dream she just had to write down. Since then, she’s experimented with other forms of creative writing; including, poetry and scriptwriting and has offered her expertise in copy editing to other writers. Currently, she’s working on her debut novel; a young adult fantasy that she hopes will give voice to black fiction authors and black women with an interest in fantasy and science fiction.

Shannon is a graduate of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and a current student at Xavier University. She’s co-owner of Elevated Soul Food, a catering company in Cincinnati, and dreams of starting her own publishing company.

As MORTAR’s Retail & Events Manager, Shannon manages the Brick Pop-Up Shop in Walnut Hills and is responsible for booking the Brick Pop-Up Shops in Over-the-Rhine. With a strong background in retail and marketing, she offers her expertise to merchandise and promote the Pop-Up Shops and the vendors who use them. She couldn’t be more excited to help small business owners realize their dreams and be a part of the MORTAR team!

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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KIAYA CARTER

Development and Expansion Manager

Kiaya Carter is a MORTAR Alum! She is an entrepreneur that serves in several capacities; doula, photographer, and educator (iamkiaya.co).

Kiaya is a proud Cincinnati Native who has experience in fundraising diversity, equity, inclusion work, and community building. She uses these experiences to drive equitable and transformative change. Kiaya is a Miami University Alumna, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and her Master of Science in Student Affairs in Higher Education.

As MORTAR’s Development and Expansion Manager, Kiaya creates and sustains valuable relationships and attracts funding to scale our impact to make MORTAR the go-to organization to help communities build equitable entrepreneurial ecosystems.

In her free time, Kiaya can be found eating a sandwich from Lil’s Bagel and enjoying coffee from Cream & Sugar Coffeehouse with her husband Jason and daughter, Lola.
 

KIAYA'S FAVORITE THINGS

BEYONCÉ
One of the greatest entertainers and philanthropists of our lifetime. She's the blueprint of all-around greatness
FAMILY
My family is my core. I am blessed to come from amazing Black Women, to be married to my husband, and to birth and now raise an amazing little Black girl!
HEADWRAPS
Headwraps links black women to the traditions of our ancestors. I love honoring my ancestors and looking regal while doing it.
LAVENDER
Lavender? Sign me up! Lavender Lattes, Lavender candle, Lavender Lemonade. Lavender me, please!
LOCAL COFFEE SHOPS
I run better on coffee. And I know when I support local coffee shops, I'm supporting my city and someone's dream!
MYLEIK TEELE
Myleik is one of the greatest entrepreneurs. She is the founder of Curlbox. She is selfless when it comes to sharing tips and resources that had led to her success.
READING
I am in love with books, especially those written by Black Women, such as Toni Morrison, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Zora Neale Hurston.
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DE'MARCO KIDD

Alumni Manager

De’Marco Kidd grew up thinking he was Tupac and Biggie mixed into one, but in reality he was just Carlton Banks.  Well, he had personality traits of all three, but the Calrton Banks side is what keeps him employed.  Growing up in the metropolis of Hamilton, OH, he was raised by his maternal grandparents, learning the value of hard work and defying the odds of being successful while being raised by parents who were the products of Jim Crow South with very little education.  As a result of their upbringing, his parents made sure to provide all of the tools necessary to achieve like they never could.  From private school education at THE St. Joseph School, Hamilton High School, and THE Milligan College, there was very little doubt that his parents were grooming him for a better chance at life.

 

After parlaying past experiences in sales, broadcast television, and non-profit services, De’Marco’s role as Alumni Manager at MORTAR is to provide every graduate of our program with the support to be as successful as possible.  It is his great pleasure to serve the community for its betterment.  

DE'MARCO'S FAVORITE THINGS

TRAVEL
There is nothing I enjoy more than getting out of Cincinnati. Ohio. The Midwest. Except Chicago. Can’t go wrong with Chicago, even in the winter! It is such a joy to me to explore a place or culture that I’m unfamiliar with, or maybe seeing a place that I’m familiar with, but still learning something new. Other than the familiar destinations of the Caribbean and coastal Mexico, my destination to call it a life is likely Arizona. Great weather, food, history, and if you love sports, it has them all!
FOOD
I grew up with parents that could “burn”! My dad (who is technically my grandfather...see my bio) was a master on the grill. My mom (technically my grandmother...see my bio) was a great southern cook. Bbq, soul food, cakes, pies, stews, you name it, it made me who I am, for better or worse when it comes to my health! Anytime I travel, I love to try foods that are native to the places I visit. I refuse to eat anything in another city that I can get in Cincinnati.
SUITS
I don’t get dressed up often, but there is nothing like a nice suit to make you feel just a little more confident. As a kid watching James Bond films, or Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor in “Harlem Nights”, I knew good suits had to be a part of my wardrobe.
CIGARS
I had my first cigar in college while playing a role in an independent film. I’ve never smoked a cigarette, or anything else, but there was something relaxing and elegant about a good cigar. I didn’t want to shoot my medical insurance premium up by sharing this, but alas.
BEACH & OCEAN
I’ve been on a few cruises in my life, and there is nothing more amazing than experiencing the clear waters and sands of parts of the Caribbean. I don’t have a need to tan, but relaxing in the sun or taking a cool dip in the ocean is bliss.
LOOKING AT HOMES
I grew up glued to the television when “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” aired. To see the homes of many of my favorite celebrities was so eye-opening to me. As I got older, and was able to drive, I would get myself lost driving through neighborhoods with gigantic houses, claiming many of them as my own, or making sure I didn’t miss Homearoma every summer.
BOOKS BY RUSSELL SIMMONS
Russell has long been an inspiration for me. Nearly every book he has put out I have read. For many of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s Russell had a stamp on something we watched, wore, or listened to during that period. As a serial entrepreneur, he is an example of how to reinvent yourself, even in spaces for which you’re unfamiliar.
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Kala Gibson

President of the Board

Kala Gibson serves as executive vice president, head of Business Banking and chief enterprise corporate responsibility officer. In Business Banking, he oversees strategic planning, operations, sales force, credit fulfillment and product development for Fifth Third clients with annual revenues up to $20 million. In December 2020, he added oversight of the Bank’s Community and Economic Development efforts, including Community Reinvestment Act lending and investment, and environmental , social and governance efforts. He’s chairman of the Bank’s Executive Diversity Leadership Council.

Kala joined Fifth Third in 2011 as a senior vice president and
Business Banking executive for Eastern Michigan. In that role, he
was responsible for the performance and strategic sales delivery
across eight counties in Southeastern Michigan.
Kala started his career at Comerica Bank in Detroit. He has over 27
years of experience in retail, community and small business banking; middle market and asset-based lending; and credit administration.

Pranav Kothari

Vice President of the Board

Pranav Kothari is the Founder & CEO of Revolution Impact, LLC. Founded in 2016 and headquartered in Chicago, the firm focuses on helping social sector organizations improve their results through better business practices and organizational strategies. The firm’s projects include growth and scale strategy, evaluation and measurement, and capacity-building for social sector leaders nationally. Current and past clients include Academy for Urban School Leadership, College Success Arizona, Education Systems Center, Expect More Arizona, The Joyce Foundation, LEAP Innovations, Neubauer Family Foundation, One Million Degrees, Scholarship America, StriveTogether, and Thrive Chicago.

Richard Westheimer

Treasurer Of The Board

Richard Westheimer taught in the Cincinnati Public Schools for 16 years before joining his family’s investment enterprise, which focused on early stage investing. He has served many Cincinnati non-profits including The Greater Cincinnati Foundation, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio, and The Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance. He is the pleased parent of five adult children and lives on his small farm in Clermont County where he, with his wife Debbie, tends to a prolific vegetable garden, plays music with friends, writes, and runs.

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.

Karyl Cunningham

Board Member

Karyl Cunningham is an accomplished NonProfit Executive with a fierce commitment to the Cincinnati community and a love for the rich history and beauty of the city. She is currently a Relationship Manager at United Way of Greater Cincinnati, and served previously in an Executive Director role at the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati and as President and CEO of Emanuel Community Center, where the organization won the prestigious NonProfit of the Year Award from the OTR Chamber. Karyl has been recognized for her work by Venue Magazine as a 2016 Woman of Influence Award and Cincinnati Enquirer 20 Top Women to Watch. She is a proud and active member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated.

Erikka Gray

Board Member

Erikka is a charismatic entrepreneur, passionate about entrepreneurship, diversity and community service. Erikka is from Columbus, Ohio, currently residing in Cincinnati, Ohio. Erikka realized at age 16 age wanted to be an entrepreneur, realizing she made more money charging her friends $5 for ride back and forth to school then working, so she quit her job at a local grocery store. During college Erikka enthusiastically tried her hand a various businesses- from owning candy machines to personal shopping. Erikka has her MBA in Business Management and Organizational Development from Urbana University.
Erikka spent 18 years in the financial corporate sector, with various roles ranging from Fraud Prevention to AVP, of Complaint Handling and Customer Care. Never the one to quit on her dream of being a full-time entrepreneur Erikka left her full-time corporate job in 2019 to focus on her company District 78, which she launched in 2013. District 78 – A mood Company, mission is to build a customer experience through luxury candle, plants and gifts. Erikka is also the co-owner of PAUSE, a collaborative alternative wellness store located in Cincinnati. You can connect with Erikka via email at hello@bydistrict78.com or online at www.bydistrict78.com

 

Carter Stewart

Board Member

Carter Stewart is a Managing Director at the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation where he identifies and supports DRK Entrepreneurs. DRK looks for innovative, early-stage nonprofits and social enterprises around the world to help scale and grow. Prior to joining DRK, Carter served as the presidentially appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. He previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in San Jose, CA, and he was a litigator at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP in Columbus, OH, and at Bingham McCutchen LLP in San Francisco, CA. Prior to law school, Carter was a New York City Urban Fellow and taught history at Friends Seminary High School. He is excited to be part of Mortar’s efforts to help build stronger communities.

Robert W. McDonald

Board Member

Rob is the Chair of the Cincinnati Business & Finance group of Taft Stettinius and Hollister, LLP. Rob is also a co-founder The Brandery, a global top-10 business accelerator. The Brandery has graduated over 80 companies and they have received over $150 million in venture capital financing and experienced exits over $150 million in value.

In addition to his work with The Brandery, Rob co-manages Vine Street Ventures, a venture capital fund dedicated to investing in web and mobile technology companies. In his law practice, Rob focuses his practice on corporate, securities, mergers and acquisitions, venture capital and sports law work. Rob assists both private and public company clients with a variety of corporate and securities related matters, including mergers and acquisitions and offerings of securities. In addition, Rob counsels government entities in an outside counsel capacity. He also assists start-up and emerging companies with business formation, fundraising, compensation, securities, and other matters that entrepreneurial businesses encounter.

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, on the Executive Committee of the Dan Beard Council (Boy Scouts of America), and the Vice President/Board Chair Elect of the Association for Corporate Growth-Cincinnati Chapter. Rob also serves as the Chair of the Nominating Committee for the Dan Beard Council – Boy Scouts of America and on the Lt. Governor of Ohio’s InnovateOhio Advisory Board. With The Brandery team, Rob was the winner of the 2012 Association for Corporate Growth Dealmaker Award and the 2013 Cincinnati Business Courier Innovation Award. He was also named to the Cincinnati Business Courier’s list of Forty Under 40 for 2012. For his work with the Boy Scouts, he was awarded the Silver Beaver and Whitney M. Young Service Award.

In 2013, he was awarded the Gentlemen of Style & Substance award by the Cincinnati Parks Foundation. Rob received his bachelor’s degree from Duke University and his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. While at Duke, he completed comparative law course work at New College, Oxford University. He earned his J.D. from Washington University School of Law, and during his last term of law school, he clerked at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Rob grew up in the United States, Canada, the Philippines, Japan and Belgium.

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.

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.