I was happy to have the opportunity to interview Mike Ingram — self-employed musician and new Champaign County Board member. Mike has been involved in various aspects of community advocacy and community building for the past 10+ years. We recently sat down at Café Kopi to talk while Mike refueled on coffee.

Smile Politely: What does inclusive community mean to you?

Mike Ingram: Trying to be understanding of everybody, even if it's somebody you don’t have experience with. I think it's trying to learn about everybody, understand them, and ensure that everyone is valued.

SP: What do you do for work?  

Ingram: I’ve been self-employed as a musician for 15 years. The main band that I play in is called New Souls. We play a lot of R&B, funk and Motown. I also book shows and DJ. Being self-employed means doing a whole bunch of things to pay the bills.

SP: How does your idea of inclusive community fit into your work?  

Ingram: Well, with booking and bringing bands to the area, I try to make sure all style bases are covered as often as I can — including women and people who identify as LGBTQ. I want to see that a variety of tastes and performers are represented. Music tends to be a male-centered business and I want to make sure everybody gets the same leg up.

SP: What other ways are you involved in community building?

Ingram:  I’m on the Boards of 40 North and the CU One-to-One Mentoring Program. I was also recently elected to Champaign County Board. I want to use these positions to help everybody I can.

SP: What makes Champaign-Urbana unique? What is special about living here?  

Ingram: Having a city this size with a Big 10 University means we have 45,000 kids coming here every year. I think this helps diversify our community and also injects money into the local economy. Champaign-Urbana can feel like a city and a small town at the same time.

SP: What are some challenges you think need addressed?  

Ingram: I don’t think this is a problem just Champaign, but also in other cities across the country. We need to improve racial relationships between city police and officials and the community. We need to do a better job of making our our services easily accessible and easily distributed among people. Even when things are good, there’s always room for improvement.

SP: Where should people start if they want to get involved in community organizations?  

Ingram: Social media and internet searches. You can find a lot of organizations that need help or volunteers. Then reach out and message them. Or show up to an open meeting.

SP: What advice would you give for someone who wants to become more involved in building a better C-U community?  

Ingram: Even doing a little is still helpful. Sometimes people think that if they can’t donate enough money or time, then it isn’t worth it. That’s just not true. I think a good example of this is Austin’s Place, a local shelter that asks people to volunteer for overnight shifts. I’ve heard people say that they l can’t go more than one or two nights a month, so they wouldn’t be very helpful. But that person may be the one person who can fill in to cover a open night.  You can do very little and still have a big impact.

SP: How would you describe yourself?  

Ingram: Hopefully other people would describe me as helpful and kind. I’m sarcastic, too. But I hope people will at least say I was helpful in effort, if not in practice. My tombstone should say, "Hopefully he helped."

SP: Do you have a personal role model who inspires you?

Ingram: My grandma, my mom’s mom, was the most analytical and logical person I’ve ever known. I spent a lot of time with her while I was growing up. She was wicked smart and incredibly kind to people.

SP: Was there a defining moment that made you choose the career path you chose? Or a defining moment when you knew you wanted to become involved in community building and activism?  

Ingram: I remember going to see a show at the House of Blues in Chicago. It was John Mayer, Howie Day, and Matt Nathanson performing. I remember thinking that at the time, this is what I want to do. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a musician. So I started booking tours for myself, driving around the country and playing shows. And then as far as community building, let’s see...There used to be an organization in Champaign called A Woman’s Place. They had a large budget shortage and it was in danger of closing. A few friends and I spent an entire month trying to do a show or event every night to raise donations for them. We were able to raise enough money to keep them afloat and able to stay open. A Woman’s Place eventually turned into Courage Connection. I had done things here and there before, but this was the first time I really felt like I could make a difference.

SP: What are your greatest stresses in life?   

Ingram: Hands down it's time management and not having enough time. Or not sleeping because there are too many things I want to be a part of. I get anxiety about not getting back to people. I try to, but inevitably things fall through the cracks. It vexes me that I have to sleep.

SP:  Where do you get the most joy?

Ingram: I find joy in travel. I’ve circumnavigated the globe and been to some cool places like Thailand, Philippines and Australia. This summer we’re going to the Faroe Islands.

SP: What’s your favorite funny story about yourself?  

Ingram: My family loves to tell this story. I was five or six years old and spending time with my dad’s family during Christmas break on the family farm. I was playing tag with the cousins and it was cold and sort of snowy out. One kid ran in a direction that caused me chase him through an area of what looked like solid ground. It turned out to include a huge, deep puddle — I mean huge. He knew where to run to avoid it, but I ended up running through that huge puddle and dunking myself in not mud, but manure!  I was up to my head in manure. I had to get hosed off with freezing water in the cold and kept alternating between being pissed off and laughing because it was funny.

SP: What makes you laugh?  

Ingram: Life. Sometimes you can either laugh or cry at life. But if you find the things that are ironic, and can’t happen to anyone but you in your circumstances, you have to laugh. And of course my wife Rachel makes me laugh. She’s very funny.

SP: Are you from C-U? If not, where were you born? Where have you lived?  

Ingram: I was born in Danville, but my mom ended up marrying a man who was in the Navy. I lived all over as a kid. Orlando, Charleston SC, San Francisco, but spent the most time in San Diego. After my step-dad retired from the Navy, we moved back to Illinois. I graduated from Mahomet High School and have lived in Champaign since 2000.

SP: What is your favorite movie?  

Ingram: If go by which movies I watch the most, I’d have to say Roadhouse and Bloodsport. Maybe that just shows my age.

SP: What kind of music do you like to listen to?  

Ingram: As a musician I love a lot of different styles and kinds of music. But my all-time favorites are soul and golden age hip-hop.

SP: What’s your favorite food? Drink?  

Ingram: As you can maybe tell, I drink more coffee than any human should. I love so many foods, and that’s a problem. I guess I’d say pizza.

SP:  What do you do in your free time?  

Ingram: When it exists, I run. That’s my time to myself. I don’t take my phone, no one can contact me. If I had more time, I’d love to be able to play video games and read more.

SP: What are your passions in life?  

Ingram: I’d say trying to find ways to improve the lives of those around me.  I feel good if I can do things to make other people’s lives better.

Mike seems to be a pretty busy guy. I don’t know a lot of people who wish they had more time to respond to emails because they want to be involved in more  that’s now much he cares about other people. Since we can’t create more hours in the day, maybe offer to get Mike’s next cup of coffee when you see him!

Click here more information about Austin’s Place.

Click here for more information about the CU One-to-One Mentoring Program.

Click here for more information about Courage Connection