I believe how and when we meet people is important.
As our campaign really takes off, I stop for a moment and reflect on how blessed Katie & I are to have such an excellent Team – AND to reflect on how that Team came to be.
This post is not about politics, but it is one that I feel compelled to write. Many of you are familiar with our Team Members as they get around town quite a bit. After reading this post, which is somewhat of a chronological mini-autobiography, you will perhaps come to realize why our bond seems so strong, why our energy is so palpable, and why we have what it takes to go the extra mile and be victorious in November.
We are not bonded by ideology. We are not bonded by political parties. We are not bonded by recommendations from others. We are bonded by our very essence – who we are as people. This all may seem very melodramatic, but I assure you it is not. I have always been a firm believer in the idea of the Karass as defined by Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut writes, “humanity is organized into teams. . .if you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reason. . .that person may be a member of your karass. . .a karass ignores national, institutional, occupational, familial, and class boundaries.”
Team Moroski is a small glimpse into my Karass.
So, without any further ado – a story about how this Team of 17 came to be.
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It all began at Moeller High School where I taught for ten years. In those ten years I created a service learning group, Moeller Advocates for Community Housing (MACH 1). Before MACH 1, however, the group was just a cross-section of Moeller students who would travel to Over-the-Rhine with me on Saturday mornings to rehab buildings for ReSTOC (Race Street Tenant Organization Cooperative – now, Over-the-Rhine Community Housing). One of the first students to work with me on these Saturday mornings was a quiet, hard-working young man named Nick Tilley (Campaign Manager). Nick never said much, he just did his job – and he did it well. Just last year, Nick reached out to me to reconnect and inquire about service opportunities in town. I directed him to WordPlay Cincy where I served as a board member. To this day, Nick is one of the most dedicated volunteers at WordPlay.
Around the same time when Nick was volunteering with me at ReSTOC, there was another young man named Matt Verkamp (Assistant to the Treasurer) who, when he wasn’t knee deep in art projects, would spend every waking moment in Over-the-Rhine with me working on behalf of the poor. I selected Matt to attend a retreat in 2005 I had planned & that I hoped would lay the groundwork for a brand new kind of student-led service learning group. MACH 1 ended up being that group. Truth be told, I had no idea what would come of the weekend, but all 12 students who where there will tell you that forces greater than us guided the weekend, and, after three days of living across the street from Findlay Market, MACH 1 was born. MACH 1 grew to become the largest teenage volunteer corps in the area when it was at its peak.
I had another student at Moeller with whom I connected, not over service, but over music. His name was Andy Dumond (Assistant Multimedia Coordinator) and he LOVED the Dave Matthews Band. In fact, he still does. Andy helped me to organize MACH 1’s largest fundraiser of the year – a Battle of the Bands style event called, “MACH 1 ROCK 1.” He not only played for the event, but helped me administrate it as well. Andy and I kept in touch throughout his college career, the launching of his company, and until today where he finds himself a father & a husband.
Throughout this same era at Moeller I developed a friendship with one of my colleagues, Joe Rouse (Press Secretary). Joe and I were fast friends, and our friendship developed even faster. Maybe it was because he shared my classroom and would leave me Wilco and Uncle Tupelo records as gifts on my desk. Or maybe it was because we both shared a similar vision of what is possible in politics – that is, governing with PEOPLE at the center of every decision. It was with Joe, many years ago, that I first began talking about my run for office. We were chatting casually at the Corner Pub in Montgomery when the conversation turned toward our disappointment over the 2004 Presidential election. This disappointment led us to our discussion of People Politics; of politicians who consider more than their own election or re-election when running for office.
Joe was always a supporter of MACH 1, and often lent his hand to help out. As MACH 1 grew, we developed a new friend who was in the Men’s Recovery Program at the Drop Inn Center, Mike Rogers (Brother). For reasons that are still a mystery to me, Mike & I had and have a kinship that is nothing short of familial. As Mike & I got to know one another better we realized two things: 1) On the surface, we could not be more different, and 2) We were exactly the same. This led us to open Choices Cafe on Elm Street. The Mission of Choices was to “bridge the gap between the affluent and impoverished through education and service.” Again, forces greater than us guided our work for five years – Mike & I knew nothing about running a nonprofit, we just knew we loved each other and wanted to share that love with others. Many great things were born out of Choices, too many to recount here.
As we worked on Choices Cafe, Mike worked on his recovery at the Recovery Hotel on Vine Street. One of his counselors there was a woman named Chris Wooten (Event Coordinator). Mike & I consulted Chris as we launched Choices, and she served as the first Secretary on our Board. Chris was there when we had our board meetings on the sidewalk on the corner of 15th & Elm, and she is still here today. Chris has been there for us from day one, and has always encouraged us to fight for what is right – namely, bringing people together so that we may realize we are all human, beautiful, and deserving of opportunity.
So. . .Choices Cafe’s grand opening was on February 3rd, 2008. Many people showed up for the event (including Joe Rouse who was then a teacher at St. Xavier), but there is one person I remember above all the rest. Her name was Katie Meyer and she was the retreat director at Mount Notre Dame High School. Our mutual friend, Jim, brought her. Katie had lived in Over-the-Rhine in college when she engaged in a service semester. She was very familiar with the neighborhood and really seemed to have a huge heart – something I admire in a person. The grand opening was on a Saturday, and I received an e-mail from Katie on Monday inquiring about how she could get Mount Notre Dame students involved in our MACH 1 program. Well, many e-mails later, a bunch of dates, LOTS of concerts, and many heart-felt chats, Katie Meyer is now Katie Moroski (Co-Candidate). That day, February 3rd, 2008, is the day my life changed. I feel very lucky indeed to be able to pinpoint the day on which my professional AND personal life was defined.
As if Choices didn’t bring enough of our Team together, there are still more.
A couple moved into town shortly after Choices opened. Their names were Leisa & Randy Wilcox (Directors of Design, Messaging, and Branding). I “met” them on Twitter and welcomed them to town. After only three days of living in Cincinnati, we set up a time to meet at Choices. I found out that Leisa & Randy owned a branding & web design firm, Once Blind Studios, and I was taken with their work. They designed Choices’ first website, and are currently responsible for the website you are reading right now. Outside the realm of business, Leisa & Randy have become dear friends to Katie & me. In many ways, Leisa & Randy watched as Katie & I grew together in our relationship.
Choices Cafe grew in reputation, Mike Rogers, the students, and I were recognized by many levels of government, publications, and more for our work in the community. It really felt like we were getting the message out there. So, we reached into newer demographics to spread the good word of affordable housing and economic morality. Before we knew it, we had more friends than we knew what to do with! This is how I met Paige Malott (Social Media Coordinator). In 2011, Katie and I had a HUGE party at our condo for the Labor Day Fireworks. Everyone seemed to be there – Democratic political candidates, blog aficionados, and Yelp’s community manager, Alex Shebar. It was Alex who brought Paige. We only spoke briefly that evening, but stayed in touch via Twitter, Facebook, and, of course, Yelp. When the time came for a Social Media Coordinator, there was only one choice. . .Paige. Paige is the consummate artist, visionary, and creative. And that is a fact.
Shortly before I was honored with the Business Courier’s 40 Under Forty distinction in 2011, I was asked to speak at the University of Cincinnati alongside Candace Klein, Joe Condit, and Joe Hansbauer. The topic of discussion was entrepreneurship – I was asked to be a part of the event due to my role in opening Choices. I met a man at the panel discussion named Eric Langevin (Adviser). I admired Eric from the moment I met him. He was tenacious, well-connected, and about as trustworthy as a guy can be. I was humbled when Eric introduced me at the Courier’s 40 Under Forty event at Music Hall. Like Leisa & Randy, Eric and his wife Becky have become close friends of ours.
2011 was a big year for me personally and professionally – aside from the 40 Under Forty award, the Magis award from Xavier University, and the Jefferson Award – I also left Moeller and took the Dean of Student Life position at Purcell Marian. One of my first orders of business was to reorganize student government and give more authority & ownership to the students. If MACH 1 taught me anything, it was that students will always rise to the occasion when you give them well-defined roles, boundaries, expectations, and guidance. After the reorganization, the senior who rose to the top of her class as School Captain was a young woman named Maria Clark (Collegiate/Young Adult Outreach). Maria was inspiring to work with, and has been a true asset to our Team as our representative on the University of Cincinnati’s campus. Maria is entering her sophomore year at UC.
While I was at Purcell Marian, I also became quite close with a number of the parents. One of these parents was a man named Chris Berger (Treasurer). Chris and his wife Kelly were staunch supporters of me from the very first day I began at Purcell. And they still are. Kelly volunteers constantly for events, and Chris keeps me on track financially. Incidentally, Chris also serves as the treasurer for the board of WordPlay, a role that he just sort of fell into due to his relationship with Katie and me, and his close proximity to WordPlay as a resident of Northside. I guess you could say that the money of any organization with which I am affiliated is managed by Chris. I am OK with that.
Throughout my nonprofit career I have been very fortunate to meet all kinds of excellent people. This next person is absolutely no exception. He works at Starfire and he and I have been “friends” on social media for some time. When I announced I was running for City Council, he was the first person to reach out to me and say, “I’ll do anything to help you get elected.” This man is “Iron” Michael Heckmann (Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator). Mike’s heart is only outmatched by his brain. He is deliberate, patient, hard-working, and LOVES Cincinnati’s 52 neighborhoods. He puts his ALL into everything that he does – whether it be connecting his friends at Starfire to community leaders, or connecting me to many of those same leaders. Michael has forgotten more about Cincinnati than you or I have ever known.
In an interesting turn of events, one of WordPlay’s other most dedicated volunteers now manages Team Moroski’s volunteers – Ginny Walters (Volunteer Coordinator). Ginny and my wife got to know each other really well through WordPlay as Katie served as volunteer coordinator at WordPlay for a time. Ginny started out as a volunteer for the campaign, and in a month’s time has taken on coordinating ALL of our volunteers, organizing our calendar, and just about anything else we ask her to do. My biggest problem with Ginny? Making sure she doesn’t do TOO much. A good problem to have.
Briefly, let us return to Choices. Through my involvement with Choices I met a man named Hershel Daniels, Jr. who runs Cincinnati Change. Hershel introduced me to his nephew a couple of months ago and we hit it off immediately. I was taken by and impressed with this young man’s dedication to self-betterment and making a difference in his community. As a result, we welcomed Devoe Sherman (Assistant Campaign Manager) to the Team. Devoe is a rising sophomore at UC and wants to be a politician when he grows up. I’ll tell you this now – I will be working for Devoe someday. You may be too. So, get to know him now and get on his good side – you’ll want to be on his Team someday soon.
And, last but not least, social media brought this last person into my life. Three months ago this man reached out to me on Facebook and asked what we were doing for videos for the campaign. I met with him at Coffee Emporium (where else?) and we had a very nice hour and a half chat. He showed me his art, photography, and videos. To say I was impressed would be a gross understatement. Then he told me that he had experience in politics. I sat there waiting for this guy to tell me it would cost thousands of dollars to hire him. But no, he said, “you inspire me and I want to do this for free.” From that moment on, FD Harper (Multimedia Coordinator, Special Adviser) has been on the Team.
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A Karass is a beautiful thing. Reflecting on how everything connects gives meaning to life – at least, for me it does. This Team has worked so hard to get me elected this Fall that “humbling” does not even come CLOSE to how I feel.
Thank you, Team Moroski, and here’s to all those folks out there who we haven’t even met yet. We look forward to working for change with you as we approach November and beyond.