sometimes the best things happen by accident.
Around 6 a.m. on January 20, 2017, I woke up feeling unsettled. A divisive election had come and gone, but it felt like an unprecedented cloud of negativity was only just starting to gather. Even friends and families who would usually put their differences aside were attacking one another.
What ever happened to simply seeing one another as people?
The next day was the Women’s March. I thought, hey. I’m a journalist. I’m gonna go down there and get people to talk about why they’re marching.
I’m a morning person. Chelsie (now our creative director) isn’t, so I texted her to call me when she was awake. I called Kelsey Johnson, a brand new coworker I had only met a few weeks ago, and said, you in? Bring the recorder. By the time Chelsie called, I had found an Instagram handle that sounded pretty cool: @womenofcincy.
I picked up the phone and said hey, we’re doing this. There was no need to ask if she was in. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to explain it, but we both just knew it was important that we do this.
We rallied some photographer friends, scribbled some posters, and showed up at Washington Park early the next morning. Crowds started to gather and we began asking: Why are you here? The people we talked to completely ran the gamut: moms with babies strapped to their chests, folks in wheelchairs, college kids, bearded dudes, families who barely spoke English, a police officer at the edge of the park. Some were aggressively liberal; others simply sought respect. It occurred to me that this went far beyond politics.
We started posting stories that night:
“I am marching because of this future superhero,” said Destinee Thomas, who marched with her 5-year-old niece. “Today she insisted on putting ‘princess’ on her poster, and I want her to think of ‘princess’ as something more powerful than just being pretty.”
That Wednesday, Kelsey, Chelsie, and I got together to figure out a plan for posting the rest of the few dozen stories we’d collected.
But here’s what happens when you get three restless type A’s in a room with a few bottles of wine and a whiteboard: You start a movement.
During the first hour, we thought we were shaping a political organization, but as we talked, we realized that taking a political stance would narrow our scope. We wanted to build collaboration and empathy across political boundaries. We wanted women from every walk of life to talk, understand one another, support and empower one another. We wanted everyone to notice how truly badass all women are.
In the coming weeks, we soul-searched. We challenged one another to figure out what we were really doing here. We hosted letter-writing campaigns and library meetings, but as we ran out of things to post from the Women’s March, we realized that those stories, spoken from the mouths of real, amazing, everyday people, were a simple and powerful anchor for everything we believed in.
Storytelling became our bread and butter, and as we sat and talked to dozens of inspiring local women – entrepreneurs, chefs, teachers, stay-at-home moms – we found we had developed a beautiful and powerful community. We assembled a team of a few dozen writers and photographers who interviewed 37 women over the course of 2017. Our social media following grew to more than 1,000. We ran into people at parties who would say, “Oh, Women of Cincy! I’ve heard of you!”
But we also grew exhausted. We had kept this thing afloat while holding down full-time jobs. As the saying goes, we were building the plane on the way down – but we couldn’t build it fast enough to keep up with our own ideas and passions. People in our network sensed it; they asked us where we were taking this thing. They told us this organization was worth something.
So we soul-searched again. We weren’t afraid to say we had talents to bring to the table: design, photography, writing, social media, um, building airplanes while plummeting off a cliff. And we saw a gap in the realm of agencies who offer these services, a gap we thought we could fill with personable, affordable, we-give-a-damn-about-you work. It was almost as if we already had the vision and just hadn’t realized it. Suddenly, an idea that had once seemed impossible, that we could generate the means to devote ourselves to everything Women of Cincy had come to stand for, seemed like a reality.
And just like that, Chelsie and I quit our jobs. A few wine-and-whiteboard sessions later, Notice, an agency specializing in women-owned, women-led, and women-empowering businesses, was born.
We now had two initiatives, two pieces that we soon realized were two halves of a whole. Notice thrives off of Women of Cincy's energy and community, while giving the Women of Cincy family a resource they need to put ideas into action. The "whole" became Women of Cincy Collective, LLC, a company dedicated to elevating, empowering, and employing Cincinnati's incredible women.
Today, we're plugging away at that goal, working to foster empathy in everything that we do in hopes that one day, we'll all simply see one another as the incredible, badass person that each of us is. And we do this because of you, so thank you for being you, Cincinnati. You have said "yes" to us time and time again, and we couldn't do this without you.