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William Thomas saw the problem.
The boarded-up storefronts in his poor Cincinnati, Ohio, neighborhood were coming back to life. Businesses were opening. Housing rehabilitation and construction were underway.
Derrick - Braziel - Area - Over-the-Rhine - Turnaround
As he and friend Derrick Braziel walked through this area, called Over-the-Rhine, they saw a turnaround story familiar to many inner-city neighborhoods across the country. In some ways, this story was a positive one. But the economic vitality also had a damaging impact: the people already living there -- many of them poor and black -- were being left behind.
“We saw a lot of white-owned businesses pop up and saw a lot of residents who looked like us without the opportunities,” Thomas said, as he recalled that moment in 2014. “We saw a problem and complained about what was going on.”
College - Buddies - Thomas - Braziel - Complaining
So college buddies Thomas and Braziel decided to stop complaining and start doing something. Now, four years later, the two men and another friend, Allen Woods, lead MORTAR, a community-based nonprofit that helps train budding entrepreneurs in neighborhoods that need revitalization.
These three men -- between the ages of 32 and 41 -- also have created a support network that makes sure these new entrepreneurs have the help they need to succeed.
People - Training - Program - Space - Help
They’ve already graduated 175 people from their entrepreneur training program, and then supported them with retail space, legal help, marketing materials and more. They have plans -- big plans -- to expand in Cincinnati and beyond, targeting other cities that can use the MORTAR model to revitalize neighborhoods.
“What MORTAR has been able to do is reach a segment of the population that hasn’t been reached, the underserved,” said Eric Denson, a senior development analyst for the city of Cincinnati. “They’re serving a niche. They’re out on the streets, making themselves available, making [clients] know what’s available.”
Not only do these newly minted entrepreneurs help the...
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