Two Wittenberg Alumni, Darrick Braziel, ‘09, and William Thomas, ’07, have passed their light around Cincinnati, and were recently named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” for Social Entrepreneurship.
The award recognizes the brightest young entrepreneurs, breakout talents and change agents in 20 different sectors. Braziel and Thomas were recognized for MORTAR, the non-profit entrepreneurship program they started in order to combat inequality and develop the Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hill communities in Cincinnati.
Braziel and Thomas started MORTAR after seeing a lack of local business owners in Over-the-Rhine. The two wanted to empower locals to contribute to the development of their community, and founded MORTAR to provide materials and mentorship to “nontraditional entrepreneurs.”
According to MORTAR’s website, Over-The-Rhine is ranked highest for income inequality of more than 61,000 communities nationwide. Braziel and Thomas see MORTAR as an innovative way to combat that, by empowering local entrepreneurs and opening new businesses through their program.
When Braziel and Thomas founded MORTAR, they were no strangers to working in the non-profit sector. After graduating from Wittenberg they have both had career paths characterized by service. Thomas came to MORTAR as co-founder of BLOOM Africa, and currently serves as a project manager for Strive Together, a board member of Rothenberg Rooftop Garden and an active tutor at Rothenberg Elementary in Cincinnati. Before founding MORTAR, Braziel lived in Indianapolis, where he co-founded the non-profit Dreamaoplis.
Braziel visited Wittenberg for the second annual SPARK Conference in September, where he spoke about his inspiration, his business and his duty to serve. Braziel encouraged students to answer the call to “pass our light.”
“There is a call to action that is inherent in our very presence here. We have an obligation to give back,” Braziel said during his keynote address.
Braziel and Thomas are meeting that obligation with MORTAR. One way the program helps local entrepreneurs launch their businesses is by giving them a low-risk space to test the market in MORTAR’s revolving pop-up shops. These shops, cleverly titled “Brick,” are the brick that comes from MORTAR, and are located in both Over-the-Rhine and Walnut Hills, Cincinnati. The shops are available not only to graduates of the MORTAR program, but other local entrepreneurs as well. They have housed handmade jewelry, custom clothing, original art, baked goods and everything in between.
Braziel and Thomas hope that their innovative business model will continue to empower individuals in their community, and diminish the inequality that has existed in Over-The-Rhine and Walnut Hills for many years.
Thomas recently told Wittenberg University Communications that MORTAR’s goals for the year ahead include expanding the program to include more entrepreneurs in more neighborhoods, and provide the technology and opportunity for more tech-savvy entrepreneurs to participate in and open digital or technological businesses. MORTAR and its partner stores Brick are building a stronger community every day, and it seems there is only more to come.