This Bridgebuilder Spotlight is one of a three part series highlighting the Columbus organization We Are Linden and the minds behind the work.
Some things are just serendipitous. Whether it’s being at the right place at the right time or catching all the green lights when you are running late. When it's meant to be, it's meant to be. For Ralph Carter, CEO and founder of We Are Linden, serendipity presented itself twofold: in the form of a block party and the opportunity to reconnect with some old friends.
Born and raised in South Linden, young Ralph was all over anything to do with building and serving the community. His mother, Willow Mitchell, was highly active in a community service group through St. Stevens, and he credits her for instilling in him the importance of building others up by being active and present. By listening and engaging. By just being there.
After graduating from Northland High School in ‘05, Ralph enrolled at Central State University, an HBCU in Wilberforce, Ohio. At Central State, Ralph stayed active through university-wide organizations and student leadership opportunities. He became president of Alpha Phi Alpha which allowed him to water “more seeds” of his love for community service. And if he didn't have enough on his plate already, Ralph was also working as a promoter in college, setting up and managing parties and events. (an important factor for something later down the road).
When Ralph would return to Linden for breaks, he would invest his time by volunteering for any youth service projects offered at St. Stephen’s.
“I wanted to do for the Linden youth what my Mom did for me. Show them through example what it means to be there for your community, to build up, so that the next generation is ready to take the torch.”
Ralph was fired up. He began to operate his own service projects through his Linden home 18th street. “I was just doing anything I could. Collecting shoes and clothes for the homeless. Serving meals to anyone who needed them. I would also set up some block parties for the kids in the neighborhood. It's all about the youth, you go to celebrate and love them kids.”
One day, Ralph remembered he had an extra foam machine from his college promoting days (talk about serendipity). So along with his nieces and nephews, he set up the foam pit and started grilling some hamburgers and hot dogs.
“Kids from all over the neighborhood were showing up. Everyone wanted to come hang out.”
As the day and crowd grew on, Ralph became concerned with the idea of fast cars and kids on the street. As he was mitigating the traffic situation and in awe of the community gathering, like a magnet, it dawned on him that he could organize these events by making it part of a larger organization.
Around the time Ralph was playing red light/green light, his mentor DeLena Scales had started a hashtag/t-shirt campaign called I Am Linden. As Ralph’s mentor was finding herself in conference and board rooms, she noticed that she was one of the only voices that championed and talked about Linden. I Am Linden became a way to showcase Linden Pride and representation at the table.
“I am Linden through and through, so I was all over this at the time. And when you saw someone else wearing the same shirt, it was a reminder that We are Linden, it’s about us.”
Coming off the high of a successful impromptu event with zero traffic accidents, Ralph was inspired to keep up the momentum and began to lay the foundational work for what is now We Are Linden, a community impact and service organization.
“I am a kid at heart. That day, I was having just as much fun out there as the kids. We were building a relationship and bond as a community at that moment. So We Are Linden really developed from that foam party.”
Speaking of being a kid at heart, Ralph’s labor of love for his community was about to be reinforced by a close childhood friend, Londale Towns.