Serial entrepreneur Will Melton is more than a businessman. The owner and founder of Xponent 21, a digital marketing agency based in Richmond, believes that giving back to the community is an inherent part of citizenship.

“From a community perspective, I’ve always found it best to be involved, to be somebody who gives time to the community in various ways,” Will says. “I got more involved in Richmond in 2020 when I went through Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR), and that really opened my eyes to a lot of the challenges that we face here, both historically and culturally.”

That LMR experience has been a foundational part of his service, and he now sits on the nonprofit’s board, as well as the board of Housing Families First. He also served on the board of ChamberRVA and co-organized AI Ready RVA, a group of leaders interested in using AI to help the region’s economic development.

Will’s commitment to service grew out of his humble beginnings. His father had passed away at a young age, leaving Will and his mother to depend on support from the community—their church, neighbors, and government assistance. He grew up with an inherent understanding of the mutual reliance that sustains a nation of communities. Couple that with the influence of a mother who grew up in the free-spirited 60s and 70s, and Will’s left-leaning progressive attitudes were born.

While his views stem from his upbringing, he acknowledges that they have evolved, even moderated over time. He says he recognizes now that helping people means giving them the education they need for self-sufficiency and growth. To feed his own curiosity and interest in understanding varied points of view, Will makes it a point to engage with friends whose views differ from his own.

“It turns out that some of my favorite people kind of bend a little bit more conservative,” he says. “They have some more conservative ideals and I find conversations with those people to be sometimes the most fascinating because they tend to be pretty successful in life, and I want to learn from people who have made it.”

Given his natural willingness to reach across political divides in his own life, it’s no surprise that when Will heard StoryCorps Founder and President Dave Isay speak at a Creative Mornings event about the organization’s One Small Step initiative, it was a foregone conclusion that he’d sign up. Not only was he a long-time StoryCorps fan, but the program Dave was describing spoke to Will’s sensibility to engage with varying viewpoints.

“I think my takeaway was ‘I have to do this, and this is who I am as a contributor to the community,’’’ he says. “The cost is minimal, and the rewards are multifold.”

Will’s One Small Step conversation partner was a middle-aged woman who, like Will, has roots in the business community—she as a realtor and her husband as the owner of a construction company.

“I wanted to surprise her a little bit with the fact that I’m very involved in the community, and—as somebody who went from being kind of poor to being a business owner—is generous with my time,” he says. “There were things about me that maybe would surprise her like I still have some fiscally conservative ideas. I wasn’t thinking I was going to convince her, but I did think I could be interesting enough to make her think twice about making a judgment about someone on the left, based on what they’ve heard on right-wing media.”

Will describes the exchange as productive—a healthy exchange of questions and answers, all within a spirit of camaraderie. And he confesses to being surprised himself at her open-mindedness, not the entrenched conservative he might have been expecting. “I think she exercised and expressed some flexibility, and I hope I did too.”