Columbus is home to those thinking up radical ideas and a company encouraging employees to pursue something on the side.
This month's issue allowed me to catch up with someone I hadn't seen in a long time. For our Healthcare Achievement Awards, I interviewed the Rev. John Edgar, the leader of Community Development for All People, a nonprofit that provides housing, medical care, healthy foods, children's programming and more for the residents of the South Side of Columbus.
I first met Edgar in 2004 when I spoke with him for a story in Columbus Monthly, our sister publication. Back then, Edgar was still relatively new to the neighborhood. He'd left a job as a district superintendent for the United Methodist Church to lead a new urban congregation, the Church for All People, which had grown out of the United Methodist Free Store on Parsons Avenue. His congregation was unique—open, intimate and economically and racially diverse. And Edgar seemed to recognize he had something special on his hands. “We really believe we are at just the beginning of a plan that over the next decade will transform the quality of life for low-income people in the South Side of Columbus,” he told me in 2004, a predication that proved to be remarkably accurate.
What stood out about Edgar's organization back then was its warmth and generosity. Take the Free Store, for instance. Folks didn't need to prove their worthiness to receive the complimentary goods, whether a secondhand T-shirt or an Oriental rug. Edgar called this idea “radical hospitality”—charity with no strings attached, love instead of lectures—and it was the guiding principle of all he was trying to accomplish.
Today, radical hospitality remains an essential value of Edgar's. “Very much so,” he told me in January. The Free Store is now in its third location, but it's always remained on Parsons Avenue, the traditional border between the wealthier white side of the neighborhood and poorer black side. “It's the easiest way to show that we are really open to people,” Edgar says.
Edgar's success raises an interesting question. Radical hospitality has allowed him to build trust and credibility with South Side residents—his customers, if you will. Could it also work in a different context? Could a restaurant or a marketing agency or a hardware store adopt its principles and enjoy the same kind of benefits? Edgar doesn't see why not. To a certain extent, the idea isn't that foreign—as suggested by the old business adage “the customer is always right.” But radical hospitality, at its core, is about “loving a stranger,” Edgar says, and that means going beyond the typical collegiality and accommodation. “Radical hospitality is about what we do to exceed other people's expectations, to let them really know that we're concerned about them,” he says.
Speaking of radical ideas, you might notice a recurring theme in this month's issue: CoverMyMeds employees with interesting side hustles. We wrote about two in a story about GiveBackHack, the three-day event that develops entrepreneurial ideas for social problems, as well as in our our profile of Jay Bobo, the co-founder of Cards for All People, the maker of Black Card Revoked, now a weekly game show on BET.
While other businesses might look askance at employees moonlighting, CoverMyMeds seems to welcome it. “We want to create a work environment where people can be themselves, embrace challenges and achieve amazing results,” CoverMyMeds COO Michelle Brown told Columbus CEO contributor Evan Weese. “Our employees are smart, driven individuals who make a difference every day—both inside and outside of the office.”
Other businesses should emulate that progressive attitude. Employees with interesting side hustles are smart, hard-working, well-rounded and worth having on your team. And if a business shows that it values its employees' work—“both inside and outside of the office”—perhaps they'll be more likely to stick around.