A grassroots nonprofit dedicated to school-age and neighborhood literacy in Springfield, Ohio, and the Greater Miami Valley area, The Conscious Connect, Inc. is the brainchild of Wittenberg graduates Moses Mbeseha and Karlos Marshall, both members of Wittenberg’s class of 2013.
Founded in 2015 with a primary mission of ending “urban book deserts” or areas with diminished access to children's reading materials, the 501(c)3 non-profit is reimagining and redeveloping underutilized spaces for the purpose of education, culture and peace. The Conscious Connect also serves as a cultural renaissance and street revitalization organization.
“Our mission is to end urban book deserts in the state of Ohio by 2021,” said Mbeseha, a resident of Dayton. “That will continue to be the main objective until we accomplish it. But growth is also a natural part of the process, and we really want to create an ecosystem to sustain the literary oasis we are building. Short term, our mission is to end book deserts, but our vision is growing along with expectations from the community, so we will continue to take this as far as access to literature remains an issue for people living in urban book deserts.”
Mbeseha, originally from Buea, Cameroon, grew up in Dallas, Texas, and State College, Pa. He majored in political science and minored in African and diaspora studies at Wittenberg and is currently pursuing his M.B.A. at the University of Dayton. Marshall, originally from Springfield, was a philosophy major at Wittenberg with a minor in African and diaspora studies, a three-year letter winner as a football player and a member of Concerned Black Students. He went on to achieve his master’s degree in higher education administration from the University of Dayton, where he’s currently working as an academic development coordinator.
“The Conscious Connect was born from a vision to create something that was at the intersections of cultural life and social conditions,” said Marshall, a Springfield High graduate. He is currently pursuing his doctorate degree in higher education administration at the University of Dayton. “We fundamentally believe that common thoughts must meet uncommon actions. The collective power of people has the capacity to do brilliant things. The mission is to establish southwest Ohio as the model and mecca for urban literary oasis. More critically, we're seeking to eradicate urban book deserts through neighborhood co-opt systems — by using current assets and creating new spatial literacy access points.”
Committed to mobilizing neighborhoods around urban education and literacy, The Conscious Connect has already received awards from the African American Community Fund in Springfield and from the United Way of Clark, Champaign and Madison Counties.
“Karlos and I got to know each other toward the end of our time at Wittenberg, but we both had the same ideals and calling to serve,” said Mbeseha, who was involved with Concerned Black Students, the Security Council and the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), as well as ran track for three years and played soccer during his time at Wittenberg.
“It was actually Karlos’ idea, and he brought folks to the table,” Mbeseha continued. “We had conversations and went on to design the platform we’re using now. As a Springfield native, he really wanted to impact his community in every way possible and tapped me to help out. With the tremendous support we’ve received, we’ve been able to grow our vision much more than I think we anticipated, which is a really a good thing as we now look to do as much positive work and impact as many people as possible.”
The nonprofit was also one of three award recipients of the UpDayton Summit for the Reading Park Project.
“I’ve been blessed to have a lot of people act as guides in my journey so far. Wittenberg played a monumental part in that ‘Having light we pass it on’ has been something that has stuck with me about Wittenberg since the first time I saw it before I ever enrolled,” said Mbeseha, referring to the university’s beloved motto. “A lot of people on campus passed the torch allowing me to do the same to others. Wittenberg was a place that enabled my greatest strengths and allowed me to develop some lifelong relationships. Wittenberg was a lot of fun, and I was involved in a lot of things on campus, and I simply want to share that energy and the knowledge and experiences I’ve been blessed to have.”
Mbeseha remembers when Scott Rosenberg, professor of history and director of the Peace Corps Preparation program, would emphasize in his classes “that as young people we shouldn’t ever believe we don’t have the power to change the world.”
“He said something of that note in every one of his classes. I took a lot of his classes, and it was the greatest lesson I’ve received in school to this date,” Mbeseha added. “I believe after graduation we had a mission to serve and have some level of positive impact in our community. There were so many issues to pick from, but literacy became our calling as that’s what most resonated with our experiences, and it was a great need in our community. We felt we could give back in that way. We picked an issue we felt we could provide alternative solutions to and attacked it.”