Mark Engelbrecht: Welcome to Queen City Profiles, a podcast brought to you by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library. Today’s guest is Dr. Keith Cradle. With over 20 years of experience working in nonprofit organizations and small businesses, Dr. Keith Cradle is driven to help organizations succeed and strive for growth. He knows how to reach companies’ goals by exploring new ideas, concepts, and methods. Dr. Keith Cradle is currently on the board of the Charlotte Voices, the Bechtler Museum, Inspire the Fire, Novo Community Foundation, and the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council for Mecklenburg County. He previously served on the Knight Foundation for Charlotte Advisory Board and the Board of Directors for Hands on Charlotte as well as the Ada Jenkins Center. Hello Dr. Cradle and welcome to Queen City Profiles.
Keith Cradle: Good afternoon, glad to be here.
ME: Thank you for joining us. Let’s get right to it. Since no one seems to be from Charlotte, where are you from originally?
KC: I’m originally from White Plains, NY: a city right outside the Bronx in Westchester county, area code 914, born and raised.
ME: Okay, and what brought you to Charlotte and when did you come down here?
KC: I got down here in 1992. I came down for college; I went to undergrad at Johnson C. Smith University. So that was the onus, I was one of those – my mom already dropped my brother off at Del State and then it was time to drop me off and Johnson C. Smith was the landing spot.
ME: Perfect fit for you. Did you also attend UNC Charlotte as well at some point?
KC: I did, I went to UNCC for grad school, got my MHA from there. Then I went to Pfeiffer for grad school. I’m like a school rat I just continue to keep going somewhere.
ME: Yeah, ever and ever continuing to learn. So tell us a little bit about your background. We can go professional, personal, whatever you’re comfortable with.
KC: Professionally, I’ve always worked for nonprofit agencies. I started out working for the YMCA and from there branched off to the health department. Where I developed grants for community-based initiatives to help young adults, teens, fathers to develop relationships – not only in this community but in their own household. Moved on from there to the sheriff’s office where they were looking to recreate some of their programming that they had to help reduce recidivism and keep some of our young kids out of trouble and continue through the system. So I’ve been with the county I would say for a total of 18 years. So half that time with the health department and half that time with the sheriff’s office.
Personally, huge baseball fan. I love watching the Yankees play. Beyond that, you know play a little golf, run a little bit, and as you get older you start to take care of your body as best as possible. Love going to the movies, music, I think a lot of stuff that people enjoy. But definitely, you know, dig the arts and cultural scene here in Charlotte which has got my interest and why I stayed involved with a lot of different agencies. So, love going to the ballet, the opera, the museum scene. So you know it’s a little bit.
ME: Any shows coming up soon that you’re interested in?
KC: Yeah, the Bechtler’s got a new show coming up. Getting ready – and I know Dr. Jen would kill me if I didn’t pronounce this right so I’m not going to. But just hit the Bechtler website for the openings that are coming up very soon and I know the opera’s going to have a show coming up next month. You know those are the kinds of things that I’m looking forward to. Everything else just get the emails in your box and if you can make then you can make it, that’s what I try to do. I just see the dates and I mark that down.
ME: So what would you say is the most underutilized resource in Charlotte-Mecklenburg?
KC: I would say the social capital. I would look at, you know, the people that are here. There are tons of folk that we know about and I think they get a lot of the attention and a lot of the phonecalls. But the reality is there’s a lot on the ground. There are a lot of people have been doing grassroots stuff for years and no one ever recognizes them, no one ever talks to them, they never ask them about solutions: things that have been working in their community; things they’ve been doing to engage youth, adults. You know so, a lot of time we overlook that, we tend to gravitate towards the popular, the fad is, the trends, instead of going towards the consistent. There are people in this community that are doing consistent work for a long time and we don’t really get to them, we don’t really get to that knowledge base and really cultivate what they’ve been doing and what has been working over time. So to me I think that’s part of one of the most overlooked right there, that social capital.
ME: Can you think of a way that might be better for organizations like the public library or some of the organizations that you are with to better connect to those with those groups?
KC: It all starts with relationships. So It really is who do you know that would know those people. Because if they’re not on your radar they’ve gotta to show up somehow. So that would mean having relationships with people that are doing not only a lot of public, civic stuff – but have their hand on the community work level too. From that, those conversations will stem and you’re going to say well, “Who’s this, who’s doing that?” and those people in the room can put those names on the table and you all can engage that way.
ME: It’s really just who do you know, who can network to those groups to try and reach them as quickly as possible.
KC: That’s always been rule number one: it’s not so much what you know, but it’s who you know.
ME: Just to piggyback on that, tell me how would you define community engagement?
KC: Community engagement to me starts with intentionality. Meaning, you know what it is that you’re trying to do. What’s the end result? From there you’re going to create metrics, detailed steps to getting involved in that end result. So I just used the example of if you wanted to build a hotdog stand; you wanted to sell hotdogs. Where are we going to sell the hotdogs? Who are we selling the hotdogs to? Where’s the money coming from for the start-up? All that stuff starts with intentionality, we know what we’re trying to do. The same with community engagement: Who’s the audience? What’re we trying to get across? How do we get to them? How do we do this so that it maintains itself for a long period of time? I look at it sometimes and hear stories that engagement isn’t long-term. But it has to be sustainable; it has to be viable. If you really want people to connect, if you really want people to stay involved, then you have to make it worthwhile.
ME: Why would you believe community engagement is important to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community?
KC: It’s huge because, its very important because as we look around our community it is constantly changing. That means as people move in, move out, as you said most people are not from Charlotte. It is a very transient city to some extent. Part of that engagement is making sure that people do stay. That we keep some of our best and brightest minds in Charlotte working in you know organizations and industry and again putting those ideas in practice into the sustainability of our community long-term. And if we don’t do that then again people are going to leave, move to other places, take that knowledge with them and develop a city someplace else and so you have that drainage. We want to make sure you know that we keep our best and brightest. You want to look at Charlotte as a community where there is an engagement happening through all walks of life. I think that a lot of times when we look at engagement we’re talking again to people that we know, but there are tons of people who we don’t know or don’t have a seat at the table but they’re the ones that are going through the issues that we are trying to solve. We don’t talk to them either.
ME: Sounds like it has to have an impact at all levels. We have to have the government making us a preferred location to live so we can keep that talent here so that then we can cultivate that talent and continue to grow as a community.
KC: That’s spot on. I mean that’s exactly what that is. You have to have everyone involved. One agency, one organization, one branch of government can’t do it all. So you have to have people working in unison. Again, understanding that whole “stay in your lane” concept. You know what you do well, do that. Do not try to do something else that will take you outside of your scope or your service provision which could possibly do more damage than good.
ME: What do see as the role of nonprofits in Mecklenburg County?
KC: The role of nonprofits is part of that construct in which whatever their mission, vision, and values are they’re going to illicit and provide services towards that. So it doesn’t matter what the nonprofit is, they find their lane, they do good work, and they allow that work to translate into positive outcomes in our community. We can generalize nonprofits as the “do good” agencies in our community. It doesn’t matter what they do as long as they are doing that, but we have to make sure they’re funded well, that they have the resources, that they have advocates so they can do this work. A lot of times when you look at nonprofits they are strapped for funding, they’re always looking for grants, they’re always trying to write to a grant just to get money to do a program that may last 6 months, 12 months. Then by the time the grant money is over they still haven’t gotten the results that they needed. We’re always looking for more solutions, more money, and no one’s ever working towards solution they’re working towards budget.
ME: Have you identified any smaller organizations that you feel like “This is where we need to focus our interest.” Is there anything up-and-coming in the nonprofit area that’s really piqued your interest lately?
KC: Yeah there’s a couple. One of them is part of outreach with the health department Reggie Singleton, who works with The Male’s Place, they’ve been doing great work with young boys in this community. They started a community garden and are looking to take some of those boys over to Africa on a trip. Carrie Cook just took over an agency coming out of Boston and I can’t think of the name of it right now but she’s getting ready to talk about social mobility along with James Ford with Opportunity Task Force. Those are the kinds of conversations that are on the tips of everyone’s lips right now. I think we have to make sure that those organizations are being looked at that people are being involved, invested, because we’re talking about the entire mobility of our community and not just portions or segments of it. We’re looking at Charlotte as a whole. When we have agencies or organizations that are coming in and are looking to do that work we have to make sure that we support them.
ME: To focus on someone’s who’s just maybe getting started with a nonprofit do you have any initial advice or guidance that you would give someone?
KC: Sure don’t. Nah, I’m kidding. I’m kidding. But starting a nonprofit is a lot of work. You want to make sure, number one, do you have a service that you can offer that you can do? A lot of times you’re going to start off doing it by yourself. So there has to be some passion, some love, a lot of care involved in the beginning stages. Because you’re probably going to walk this beat alone until you draw folk to it. The second thing I would say is always have a good mission and vision statement. You want to make sure that you stay true to what it is that you set out to do. You never want to do anything that is outside of the scope of what you can do. From there I would say start looking for resources. Because I see people paying things out of their pocket all the time. Unless you’re working a job that’s paying you $250,000 a year and you can supplement your nonprofit with some of that money – you’re really going to be eating into your own savings or your own bank account and that’s kind of hustling backwards and you don’t want to do that. You want to be in a position that before you start this have some seed money. Have some money set aside where you know you can purchase business cards, equipment, resources – whatever it is that your nonprofit is going to do. You want to be ahead of that before you start. If you’re looking at something in 2019 start preparing that bank account now; so you go into 2019 with some money for startup costs, for filling out paperwork, you might have to hire a grant writer, things like that. Those hidden cost will somewhat agitate you as you’re going through it that might make you quit as you going through that process
ME: Could diminish that passion pretty quickly. So you touched on the financial aspect of it, what are some of the other hiccups that organizations when they are just getting online run into?
KC: One of the biggest is personnel. What I’ve seen is that people consistently hire friends and family who have no clue at what they’re doing. You got people that you’re trusting to do the work but they don’t have the expertise and they probably don’t even have the passion to do it. They probably want to help you, but you can’t call them at 3pm, 5pm, 1am saying “Hey listen, I need you to do something.” They’re already at work; they’re doing something else; they’re going to put you off. “Hey, what ever happened to that application that I needed you to fill out that we needed to get in?” “Oh, y’know… I’m on it.” And they’re really not on it. I say early on find people that you actually are going to hire, who like what you’re doing, but they’re not related to you. That way they’re not beholden to this whole, “I still got to love them even if they don’t do everything that I’m supposed to do.” You want to put people in the position that if you’re going to pay that you have to have that ability to hire and fire. If people aren’t doing the job then you need to let them go.
ME: From your personal vision, where do you see the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area going? Where would you like to see us as a community?
KC: Right now it is definitely growing leaps and bounds when you look at it around 277, uptown. We’re talking about growth for people. Folk are going to move to Charlotte; they’re not building all this stuff just to have it empty. We have to be prepared as folk move to Charlotte from wherever they’re coming from: east coast, west coast, midwest, down south. We have to make sure that Charlotte is inclusive of all these people, that there are jobs for them, but also for the people that are already here. We can’t forget about the folk that have been here for years and still trying to find their path, trying to find their way into Charlotte. We’re talking about being part of the whole fabric and not just fringe aspects of this city. Everybody’s vested in every process from government, to financial, to the growth uptown, to the museum scene, art and culture, to the restaurants. All this stuff is business for Charlotte because it is the heartbeat of what we’re trying to keep going. If people aren’t invested in that people won’t come or they’re going to come and leave early. That’s not what we want to do. I want to make sure that as Charlotte grows that we don’t forget our roots and we don’t get too far outside of that: that we just think about build, build, build and we can replace people as people leave.
ME: What do you see as some potential barriers to that vision? To the growth of Charlotte?
KC: I would think that it would be the “small town” mentality that people still think of Charlotte: that there’s a few people still holding all of the strings; that it’s hard to get in; that it’s hard to be a part of that inner working of Charlotte. If people feel that way then they tend to take a step back. They say, “That’s not for me. They’re not going to let me in. You got to pay-to-play.” They become somewhat disenfranchised in that attitude. You want to make sure that we’re knocking down walls, opening doors, cracking windows – whatever it is that allows people to seep in, illicit ideas, and know that they’re valued. Especially here in our city we want everyone to feel valued.
ME: Again, it sounds like to achieve such a thing it’s got to happen on all levels. We’re all feeding off each other; we’re all growing together; we’re an organism that’s really symbiotic. You can’t have the banks fail, or the county fail, or the nonprofits fail. We’ve all got to be working together. I see that as definitely the only way that we can achieve those goals of growth and staying strong as a community.
ME: What would you say is the most life-changing piece of advice that you have received in your life?
KC: Oh man, so much advice. At this age, I’m 43 now, I’ve gotten a ton of advice. The stuff that sticks out the most is just to continue to work hard. One of my professors used to always tell me, “Make sure you show up.” No matter what you do: if people invite you to things; if people are asking you to be a part of something; if you know you’re supposed to be somewhere at 7 o’clock or 2 o’clock, show up. That allows people not only to get to know you, but they realize the work ethic; they understand the person. You’re giving people the best that you have. I think that’s always been one of those stand-out things. Show up and do the best you can with the time that you have, with the job that’s been given to you. Don’t waste your talents. Especially for young folk, whenever I have mentees, interns, I always sit them down in my office and I ask them, “What do you want to do? Let’s try to get you there.” But understanding that it’s going to take hard work, dedication, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of late nights, sometimes some poor salaries on the first jobs that you get. I think there’s a reality that comes with those conversations. I always want to make sure that whatever I’m doing that I’m being as honest, as transparent as possible in those conversations, letting them know that you don’t get here by accident. None of this is happenstance. A lot of this is hard work, showing up, doing the best that you can with what you have.
ME: You have an impressive body of work for your career and for your life.
KC: Thank you.
ME: Is there one person that gave you that work ethic or inspired you to have that level of work ethic and that drive?
KC: Well I think I’m an amalgamation of a lot of people. I’ve had mentors, big brothers, those people have rubbed off on me. From a celebrity standpoint, it would definitely be Sean “Puffy” Combs. I think Diddy embodies that level of work-ethic, of waking up every morning with a purpose, with a passion. That “can’t stop, won’t stop” attitude. I watched his career from the beginning and you just nitpick on things that you see, that you hear, and you understand that. He doesn’t get to almost a billion dollars by sleeping in all day. It doesn’t happen.
ME: And he doesn’t stop.
KC: He won’t stop.
ME: I think we just touched on this, I take it that’s one of the places you take inspiration. Other than people, where do you find inspiration?
KC: Just in life in-and-of itself. I am a student of life. I’m very observant of things that are going on. If you watch a nature show and you watch a plant grow from a seedling all the way to a full blossom. You understand that seedling didn’t become this flower without rain, without water, without sunlight. All these things inspire the innate nature of who we are as people. We’re all striving for the same things: we all want to be alive; we want to be healthy; and we want to live in safe communities. I think I’m inspired by all the stuff that’s around me: you see it; you touch it; and you feel it. I love being on-the-go. You meet people. You see folk. You pick up books, magazines. I read everything, no matter what it is. I want to read something just because it’s there. I was reading an article today on Shia LaBoeuf in Esquire magazine on the cover. While I liked him in Transformers I haven’t heard too much about him or his troubles since. But here’s this article about a young man trying to correct his wrongs and hold onto a career in which he was given the keys to the kingdom. He’s only 31. You look at that and say, “Wow, for a lot us at 31, 18, we could’ve jacked up life too if we weren’t kept on a certain path to do some of this stuff. If people didn’t invest in us and say, “Hey, listen, you’re about to mess this up man. You might want to do something else.”
ME: If you were to write a letter to your 21 year old self is there anything that you would care to share to get yourself ready?
KC: Yeah, looking back, definitely no regrets, as you write that letter you understand that everything that you’ve gone through was meant to be. It’s all for a purpose. I would definitely tell me at 21 to stay focused. Probably not take that trip to Charleston that time you –
ME: Haha, we don’t have to –
KC: Right, I think probably rework some of those relationships that I had. I have a better relationship with my dad now, but I would have told 21-year-old Keith to work that out then, don’t wait too long to do it. Continue to go as hard as you can with the time that you have. Life is short. You don’t know when your number’s going to get called. Have as much fun as possible and stop trying to impress everybody. Back then I was trying to impress folk that weren’t going to be around and that probably hindered some of my growth at that time. So I would tell young Keith to go ahead and don’t worry so much about what other people think. Just do what you got to do and the people that love you will be around throughout this process.
ME: So what about future self, future Keith? What would you hope to hear from him if he was writing you a letter?
KC: I would hope he would say we did a good job. Well done. I would hope we would say that.
ME: So how can our listeners hear more about you and hear more from you?
KC: So I have an online show with one of my business partners, Jameka Whitten, Sips and Tips. You can look that up on Suite929.tv. Just started a podcast, Crafted with Cradle, in which we’re doing interviews with folk from Charlotte to talk about the art and cultural scene here. It’s over cocktails and conversation. You can find me on instagram or twitter at @mrcradle or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I always answer.
ME: I’m going to go off script for a second and ask: what are you reading right now?
KC: The Alchemist. That’s one of those that you’ve heard so much about. A friend of mine gave me her copy and I said, “Let me jump into this thing.” It is one of those books – I may not give it back to her I may have to give it to somebody else. Pay it forward.
ME: Dr. Cradle thank you for being our guest on the podcast. It’s been a great conversation for me and it’s really been a pleasure, I can’t say that enough. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners before we go?
KC: Definitely support your local libraries. Huge shout-out to Queens University, the students here who are working this podcast and, I would assume, gaining experience as part of the communications department. I was a communications major at Smith so I understand the grind and it’s definitely different now.
ME: I just wanted to say thank you everyone for listening to the Queens City Profiles. To learn more about this or any of our other podcasts please visit our website. That’s digitalbranch.cmlibrary.org. Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/cmlibrary or on Twitter at @cmlibrary. A special thanks to the students and faculty of Knight School of Communication at Queens University and Digital Charlotte for their support in producing this content.