This month's cover story on Dionte' Johnson, the owner of Sole Classics in the Short North, underscores the importance of empathy during volatile times.

I tell people all the time that I love surprises. Not knowing what will happen next keeps life interesting—I suppose that’s why I got into the news business in the first place. But the surprises of 2020 are whoppers.

Who would have guessed we would be wearing homemade facemasks? Or that giant corporations would run smoothly even with all their employees working from home?

Stay up to date with the region’s business scene. Subscribe to Columbus CEO’s weekly newsletter.

Or that the U.S. Supreme Court would finally give LGBTQ workers the protections they deserve in an opinion written by its most conservative justice?

Who would have guessed big businesses would come out vocally in support of Black Lives Matter? That our streets would be filled with protestors for weeks? That our public institutions would take down the statues of Christopher Columbus after decades of unheard requests that we stop honoring the racist icons of the past who brought pain and destruction to the indigenous peoples of America?

Who would have guessed an intern would write the cover story for this issue?

She did. Tatyana Tandanpolie, who graduated from Pickerington High School North, is a rising junior at New York University, where she double majors in journalism and Africana studies. The first time I met her was on a Zoom call to plan the July issue, where I asked: How do we make race and equality front and center in the magazine, like it is for so many local businesses right now?

Tandanpolie emailed me after the meeting with an essay Dionte’ Johnson published online, telling the story of how his Short North shoe boutique, Sole Classics, was looted the night of May 29 as the neighborhood was filled with clashes between demonstrators and Columbus police. She wasn’t thinking she would be the one to write a story, but when I asked, she said yes. I’m so glad she did.

Tandanpolie drops the reader straight down into the chaos of that night, the emotion, and what it was like for Johnson as he swept up broken glass in his store. What it was like for Johnson, who is a football coach at Eastmoor, as he thought about the Black youth he mentors. The Black youth he was not so very long ago.

Empathy is the most undervalued trait in business, and possibly in our society, right now. I hope Johnson’s story, and the powerful voices of Black business owners in a related feature about what we can do now to advance racial equality, take you to a place you have never been, even though it might be painful and uncomfortable.

The time to understand, to act, to be different, is way past due.

Sometimes the story angle changes

Writer Tatyana Tandanpolie, a Columbus CEO intern from New York University majoring in journalism and Africana studies, wrote this month’s cover feature. Here is what she had to say about her experience:

Having the opportunity to tell Dionte’ Johnson’s story was an honor for me, especially as an intern. While we were forced to meet over Zoom because of the pandemic, the conversation we had about his life growing up in Columbus, his love for his family and his Eastmoor Warriors players, and his dedication to his community inspired me in so many ways.

Though I originally approached the story from a different angle, after speaking with his friends and mentees Miicah Coleman and Dan Dover, I realized that Johnson’s story is as much about giving back and looking to one’s community for mutual liberation in the face of oppression as it is about a Black business owner who’s made light out of personal tragedy during a global pandemic and the continuing onslaught of anti-Black police violence.

It was important to me to ensure that I imparted each facet of his story in this piece, doing him and his community justice.

— Tatyana Tandanpolie