COLUMN: Greater Cincinnati's 9 most inspiring everyday people of 2016

CINCINNATI -- One of the very best parts of being a reporter is interviewing inspiring people and then telling their stories.

There are the people who have become known for their work and accomplishments -- such as retired federal Judge Nathaniel Jones and local civil rights activist Marian Spencer.

But in 2016, I also talked with lots of everyday people in the Tri-State who are working hard to make a difference in the community in some way, usually without much fanfare.

Here -- in alphabetical order -- are nine of the most inspiring. My apologies to the many others I could not include. But WCPO is, after all, 9 On Your Side.

Sabrennah Bacon. I still get a little choked up thinking about Sabrennah. I met her while reporting a story about the free summer camp that UpSpring operates for local children experiencing homelessness. Sabrennah, who was 18 when we met, was working as a camp counselor there. Not because she is interested in education or nonprofits. But because she herself was homeless for about a year and a half, living in an SUV with her mom and dad while she was in high school. Her poise, confidence and compassion for the kids at the camp all impressed the heck out of me.

Sabrennah Bacon

Marvin Bryce Sr. This gentleman's story took me by surprise. I was interviewing him about his IT services company, Kingdom IT Solutions, and his nonprofit ministry, Soaring Spirits Aviation, when he mentioned a bit about his personal story. He had lost his home to foreclosure and was living in his car when he looked up and noticed a medical helicopter overhead. He interpreted the experience as a sign from God and took his life in a whole different direction. He operates Soaring Spirits Aviation to provide medical transports to far-away places for patients, including terminally ill people who can't afford to get home to their families before they die.

Marvin Bryce Sr.

Denise Bryers. She inspired me with her incredible work ethic. Bryers was a young mother when her husband went to prison, leaving her to raise three small kids on her own. She relied on public assistance for a while but worked her way off welfare. I know from interviewing others how difficult that is. But Bryers went even further, working multiple jobs while she built a new career as a personal trainer. Now she has opened her own gym and is working with clients to improve their health. She believes in the work so much that she offers scholarships to clients who can't afford the fees.

Denise Bryers

Keven Cordero. Cordero was just 7 years old when his family moved from Puerto Rico to Middletown. He spoke no English. Between the language barrier and a learning disability, school didn’t come easy. Still, he worked hard, graduated from high school and put himself through barber school. He saved his money. And earlier this year, at the age of 22, he opened his own barbershop and salon called Royal Studio in Middletown. I thought that was a pretty impressive journey over just 15 years.

Keven Cordero Photo by Emily Maxwell | WCPO

April Ferguson. Ferguson is the owner and CEO of Apro Accounting & Tax Services -- a small business doing so well that it recently opened a second location. But as a child, Ferguson sometimes got so hungry that she would walk her younger brother and baby sister to a nearby Kroger store where they took apples to eat in the store's bathroom. Her mother had serious mental illness and often kept Ferguson out of school. She missed so much school that she struggled with reading until a teacher worked with her after school starting at age 10. Now she not only owns a growing business, but she also has started a financial coaching program to help other families learn how to manage their money better and get out of debt. How Ferguson went from hungry child to successful entrepreneur is a story that was well received by our readers and viewers.

April Ferguson

Kijai Khamisi. I really try not to cry during interviews, but that was especially tough when I sat down with Khamisi. No new mother expects to have to leave the hospital without her baby, but Khamisi's 19-old-day son, Ajani, died in her arms in 2014. Khamisi thought her grief would consume her, but she somehow found the strength to create a business in his name. She started Ajani's Gourmet Strawberries in 2014 and was working to raise money to open a storefront in Northside when I interviewed her in September. Her strength and resilience truly moved me.

Kijai Khamisi

Ben Klayer. At age 21, Klayer already had completed his second book when I met him. His first was a collection of poems called "Over the Hills: A Poetry Collection." The second is a memoir called "No Outlet" about growing up in West Price Hill, surrounded by poverty. Klayer got to know poverty up close through his best friend, who lived on the same street as Klayer with his mom and her boyfriend. His friend's mom had a job but didn't make much money. Before long, Klayer figured out that the mom's boyfriend was a drug dealer. Klayer took all those memories and experiences and decided to write about them in an effort to shine some light on the realities of childhood poverty here.

Ben Klayer

Angela Merritt. What I loved about Merritt's story was how hard she is working to improve -- not only her own life -- but also the lives of all her neighbors. Merritt spent years homeless and addicted to drugs. She had lost custody of her children and that made her lose hope, too. She expected to die on the streets of Over-the-Rhine. But one morning she woke up in an abandoned building near Washington Park and heard a voice. She decided it was a signal from God and began turning her life around that very day. She eventually regained custody of her youngest daughter and reconnected with her other children. And once she felt stable, she started thinking about how she could help her neighbors. Merritt started The Women of OTR Support Group to create a stronger sense of community among the other single moms in her neighborhood.

Angela Merritt Photo by Emily Maxwell | WCPO

Jan Rogers. Rogers is last alphabetically but certainly not least. She is the inventor of the Time Timer, a device that helps children visualize the passage of time. She came up with the idea as a stay-at-home mom who had run out of other ways to explain time to the youngest of her three children. One of the things I loved about Rogers' story is how many times experienced businessmen discouraged her from pursuing her idea. But she believed in it. With an initial loan from her husband, Rogers launched a business that has now grown to have millions of dollars in sales all over the world. It just goes to show how much a determined person with a good idea can accomplish.

Jan Rogers

If that's not inspiring, I'm not sure what is.

Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Childhood poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. And she has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for nearly 20 years.

To read more stories about childhood poverty, go to www.wcpo.com/poverty. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email lucy.may@wcpo.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.

Print this article Back to Top