Everyone has a story.
This week: Meet Susan.
Meet Susan Casey-Leininger: executive director of Village Life and advocate for global citizenship everywhere. Her work in northern Tanzania is paving the way for women on both sides of the globe.
New feature stories launch every Monday and are 100% driven by your nominations. Celebrate the bright individuals in your community here.
“I went in like a lot of young white women who think that they can change the world one African baby at a time. That year taught me a lot about my own insignificance.”
Susan Casey-Leininger has done it all – from working with Americorps to fundraising for the African Leaders Malaria Alliance to living and working in East Africa. Today, as the executive director of Village Life, Susan personifies the word “adventurous.” As shown in her work, Susan is passionate about cultural immersion and the benefits – as a community, society, and world – of learning about each others’ differences. Her various travels and work experiences have given her a unique and valuable perspective on fostering change both inside and outside of Cincinnati.
For those of us born with a fascination with fashion, the shirts on our backs are about more than function. What we choose to wear can be a source of confidence, a way to tell someone passing by a little bit about who we are – even what we stand for. And on a rainy summer evening, I scurried down Vine Street with my deteriorating cat-ear umbrella to meet Cincinnati’s rising style icon and nationally recognized designer, Tessa Clark.
Writing for Women of Cincy has given me the opportunity to meet and share stories with influencers and change-makers throughout Cincinnati. I usually walk away from my interviews feeling inspired, but Kick Lee is quite possibly the coolest person I never knew I needed to meet. He’s created a career and a lifestyle based around helping others achieve their dreams. As the founder of the Cincinnati Music Accelerator, he’s helping local musicians realize their worth as artists and discover how to take control of their own careers.
Monique Gilliam – mom of four, change-maker, mentor, advocate, and more – requested that we meet her at Findlay Market for our conversation. It was a peaceful Tuesday evening, and the weather was more than agreeable. She arrived with open arms, flashing her bright smile. She was rocking a gray O.T.R. T-shirt that listed the street names that she knows all too well.
Women of Cincy began on a whim on January 20, 2017, to document stories from the Cincinnati Women’s March. Five 20-somethings pulled together a few cameras, recorders, and an Instagram account the morning of the march. We had no idea what we were creating, or just how far it would take us.
This summer, we’re taking a moment to look back at that day and celebrate how far we’ve come, and then to share our vision for this movement going forward.
At this year’s Pride parade and festival, we asked Cincinnatians to tell us what brought them to Pride, the L.G.B.T.Q. folks that inspire them, and what the word “pride” means to each of them. They responded with poignant reflections on their personal journeys with L.G.B.T.Q. acceptance and the history of pride in Cincinnati.
“We wanted people to be able to thrive more quickly. I think surviving means holistically being able to find yourself in the chaos of a life that maybe you didn’t expect and no one would wish on anyone. ‘Thrive’ encompasses not only the individual or family unit of refugees, but also that the greater community wants Cincinnati to thrive.”
“I’ve never actually wanted to leave my community. Well… Let me take that back. I don’t know if I wanted to leave, but I would have left if there was no change. I knew as I got older and started to raise my family that what was going on in my community was not good for my children. I was trying to protect them from what I grew up with: the hustle and bustle. The crime. The drugs. The violence part of it.”
We sat down with “true Cincinnati kid” Ricardo (Rico) Grant to talk about his career in the hair and beauty industry, the inspirational woman in his life, and his upcoming adventure: PALOOZANOIRE, a three-day celebration bringing together over 2,000 men and women of the Black community from across the nation.
It was a hectic ride in at 9 a.m.: fluorescent buses, playground yells, untied shoelaces, and a handful of teachers guiding school kids towards Roberts Paideia Academy in East Price Hill. The school day was beginning. For many of these kids, this school is a second home, a place to feel safe and to know they are supported. But for some, it’s even more than that.
Solopreneur strategist and C.E.O. of think BIG strategies, Carla Walker, welcomed us into her downtown office and out of the busy streets and Opening Day crowds. As the hours stretched into the late afternoon, our conversation traveled from harnessing interests in professional life and strengthening international relationships to morning rituals and the moments in life that change everything.
One of my favorite things that we do here at Women of Cincy is ask all of our interviewees the same question: Can you tell us about an influential woman in your life? I love seeing the threads and stories of women impacting other women – and men, too. And of course, so many respond with odes and adages to their moms, and I love getting the chance to compile those answers every year. Motherhood – like womanhood, like life – is the best combination of messy and beautiful; let’s celebrate it.
Tucked in a quiet corner on Clay Street in Over-the-Rhine, Please is a warm and inviting space that allows diners to leave their worries at the door, relax, and enjoy a good meal. With a colorfully unique restroom (#pleasepotty) and walls hugged with personal cards, photographs, bus tickets, and wine corks left by guests, the cozy restaurant is a wholesome reminder of the city it serves. Grab some wine or a warm drink and join us at the table as we discuss Ryan’s love for cooking, his perfect day, and his passion for creating an inclusive and well-rounded environment that aims to please.
Grecia met us on a snowy Cincinnati day at the public library downtown. We found a table on the top floor where we could chat without disrupting other readers. Her smile and calming demeanor made it feel like we were old friends catching up at the dining room table. She’s kind; she’s strong; she’s humble; and she makes you feel at home.
We sat down recently with Em Joy, the self-proclaimed “super-sexy nerd,” to hear their story. A Cincinnati native, graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) program, and fierce advocate for social justice, Em found a way to bring their passion and talents together to make our city a safer and more equitable place.
Tikkun Farm is a place: an old dairy barn, a renovated farmhouse, fields full of community-grown crops. But its heart and soul is Mary Laymon, an ordained minister who has studied trauma, led pilgrimages in the United Kingdom, and raised an adult son.
Ryan Adcock is on the frontlines of a tough fight to make Cincinnati a better place for women and infants. As the executive director of Cradle Cincinnati, his job revolves around listening to women and families to help reduce infant mortality in the tristate area.
Rhonda Craig is more than just a coach. She’s a mother of two; she’s the founder of a nonprofit called Sisterhood 360; she’s embarking on a personal battle with multiple sclerosis; and she’s a devoted leader to young women who need it the most.
We sat down with Rosemary Oglesby-Henry on a chilly day in January. After some confusion on our meeting location, I rushed across town from Withrow High School to Mount St. Joseph, but I was quickly brought to calm with her presence. She has a peaceful demeanor about her and can make you laugh in a moment with a simple story about her Bible and her son, Qua'Ron.
We met with Lauren Beatty, conservation education coordinator for the Wave Foundation for the Newport Aquarium, at the picturesque Carew Tower Arcade. She’s had a fascination with the tower since she was a child, and this day was no exception.
Sylvia Brownlee has been working in the beauty industry for more than two decades, and over time, she found skincare to be her passion. After clearing her own skin and finding unstoppable self-confidence, she knew she wanted to use her expertise to help others do the same. That’s why she opened Pure Beauty Skin Bar in Silverton and established her own skincare line: to serve a community in need of quality care and that ever-coveted healthy glow.
On a gray morning downtown, Vine Street’s ancient brick giants look over the city as if to say, “I’ve been here longer than you.” Inside one of these beautiful edifices is the spacious but quaint office of Margo Warminski, preservation director at the Cincinnati Preservation Association. Peering into the distance, Margo identifies iconic landmarks with a passion most people reserve for sports statistics or “The Bachelor.” She marvels in the use of slate, repurposing of schools for offices, and the view of the church spires in the distance. A longtime advocate for preservation, Margo started at the organization as a volunteer in 1977 and has since worked her way up to the top position at the small but mighty nonprofit company. We sat down at her office to discuss her reverence for the past and her hope for how the history of the city will influence its future.
The first time I walked into the Miller household was seven or eight years ago. Andrea Miller would soon become my mom’s best friend; a woman who’s walked alongside us through some hard times, always with a voice of reason and love. She has become a second mom, a cool aunt, and a woman that I admire beyond belief.
We spent an afternoon with author, researcher, and teacher Kristen Iversen in her historic home off the idyllic Ludlow Ave. We sat between two stacked bookcases filled with photographs from the past and pages of words written by famous authors – one of them being herself.
When Sara Al-Zubi saw what was happening to women and children in Syria and around the world, like so many of us, she was astonished and appalled. She couldn’t sit idly by, so – at just 20 years old – Sara crashed full-on into the world of refugee activism. From Truman Scholar to youth ambassador to founder of multiple nonprofits, her accomplishments are impressive, but Sara’s just getting started.
There are people who come into our lives when we need them the most. I met Kathy Kugler on a day when I felt overwhelmed by the world’s problems and helpless to do anything about them. I knew very little about Kathy’s background, except that she was nominated to be interviewed by us because of her ability to act and help others.
I met Aprina Johnson outside of a warehouse. “You ready?” she asked. I said yes, although I wasn’t sure. I put my Subaru into drive and followed her sedan through a quick series of back alleys. We parked in a secluded area near an abandoned truck yard, and out of Aprina’s car tumbled four children plus herself. We scuttled across a road and past patches of overgrown weeds and large cement blocks, eventually making it to a highway overpass.
At just 18, Rasleen Krupp is already a political activist with an impressive list of accomplishments. She has spoken in front of thousands at Cincinnati’s Women’s March. She organized the walkout at her high school, joining thousands of other schools as they raised their collective voices to memorialize those killed in Parkland and protest for stricter gun control legislation. And she formed The Young Activists Coalition to offer a place for young people to get involved. That coalition organized the March for Our Lives and continues to hold events to educate and give a voice to teens.
If you spend any time in bars in Cincinnati, you’ve probably heard of Molly Wellmann. The proud Cincinnatian, bartender, business owner, and former punk-rock girl has a wide smile and a lot of tattoos. She currently owns two bars, Japp’s and Myrtle’s Punch House, but she’s been a fixture on the local cocktail scene for roughly a decade.
As the new owner of the specialty food store in Findlay Market, Kate continues the legacy of a business her father, a Lebanese immigrant, started over 30 years ago. With respect for the wisdom and success of her father and the thoughtful confidence to lead the business with new ideas, new products, and new branches of business, Kate combines people, food, culture, and personal principles to create an exceptional niche in the local food world. And while navigating her new role as a young woman business owner, she’s discovering that she just might have a knack for all that leadership stuff, too.