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
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.
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 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!
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.
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.
Brittany started her first business at 13, B’s Bakery. She not only took delight in baking and feeding her loved ones; she enjoyed designing brochures, business cards, and going to baking classes. In essence, being an entrepreneur was baked into her genes and serving was her passion.
Her proclivity for health and wellness led her to major in Kinesiology and Exercise Science at Miami University then moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in athletics. Having a desire to empower the people of her own neighborhood, Brittany returned to Cincinnati where she became a managing partner at YEP! Fitness and the co-founder of YEP! Foundation all while volunteering for CityCure now City Gospel Mission. She was led to make a direct impact against the many health disparities and inequities in low-income, minority communities after her mother passed of Type I Diabetes.
Brittany’s passion for entrepreneurship and serving the community brought her to MORTAR. She currently sits as the Development & Expansion Manager at MORTAR and has the unique and exciting opportunity to not only acquire funding for our strategic initiatives but also share the MORTAR model with partners across the country. She is a proud member of the Illustrious Xi Rho Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated and volunteers for a number of local nonprofits in Cincinnati.
Ashantia is a Michigan native who is passionate about amplifying the voices of people of color through research and community work. She considers herself a habitual student and continues to pursue higher education. Ashantia has a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology from Miami University, a Master of Science in Psychology from the University of the Arts – London, and a Master of Education from the University of Cincinnati.
She has a love for program facilitation and has experience giving workshops on a range of topics including Critical Race Theory and the importance of self-care. Her desire to learn more about and support the Cincinnati community brought her to MORTAR. She is excited to support the organization through her role as Expansion Manager where she will share the work of MORTAR with partners locally and throughout the United States.
Bio Coming Soon!
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 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 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 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.
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 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.bydistrict78.com
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.
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.
Tim is a results oriented, skilled Financial executive with multifaceted global Finance experience in a world-class consumer goods company and multiple consulting practices. He has a passion for building and inspiring high-performance businesses and teams and offers 30+ years of experience in developing winning business strategies and delivering superior financial results. Tim is a recognized leader who combines creative business thinking and ability to influence both broad organizations and across challenging organizational boundaries
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 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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