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December 13, 2015

As the Pennsylvania Society parties in NYC, next generation of civic leaders gathers in Philadelphia

Politics Millennials
12132015_PLB_Kellan_Nicole_White Syreeta Martin/For PhillyVoice

“We’re figuring out where we can get young people involved in a substantive way,” said Nicole Allen White, who with her husband, Kellan White, helped create the Pattison Leader Group and its annual ball.

It’s no secret that although Philadelphia is the nation’s fifth largest city, inhabited largely by people of color, the spaces filled by decision-makers and power players don’t always reflect that diversity.

Young professional Philadelphians like husband and wife duo, Kellan White and Nicole Allen White, and Scott Grossman and Jenna Silverman of IAMBrand, are changing this reality through the Pattison Leader Group and the annual Pattison Leader Ball. Named for the two youngest governors in the state’s history, Robert E. Pattison (1883-1887 and 1891-1895) and George M. Leader (1955-1959), the ball draws inspiration from these two men who, at an early age, committed themselves to making a difference in Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, the Third Annual Pattison Leader Ball was held at the Independence Visitor Center in Old City Philadelphia. Located across from the Independence Hall and Liberty Bell, the view served as the perfect backdrop for an evening of networking, dancing, and discussion about the future of policy and politics in Pennsylvania.

Strategically hosted on the same day as The Pennsylvania Society Dinner, which has been held at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York City for the past 117 years, the ball has distinguished itself as the option for young Philadelphians who want a similar experience – but with a greater focus on local issues and opportunities.

Conceived three years ago as a way to cultivate the next generation of the civically-minded and politically-motivated, the ball engages people of diverse backgrounds and ethnicities – many of whom have gained new and valuable connections through the event.

“If you’re going somewhere to network, this is the place to be,” said Nina Koch, a three-time attendee and enrollment and match specialist at Big Brothers Big Sisters Southeastern PA. “I would love to get more involved [with Pattison Leader] in some capacity; I think they’re doing really great things.”

According to Kellan White, the diversity of the young professionals who attend the ball is one of the “really great things” that the co-founders take pride in. In fact, it mirrors the diversity in the personal and professional lives of the young, accomplished married couple and their fellow co-founders.

“We’re two African-American young professionals, so we want people in this room who look like us as well because we’re not the only two,” said Nicole Allen White of her husband. “This is a city full of them.”

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The Women of Destiny network provides scholarships for rising women in leadership to attend the Pennsylvania Society weekend, courtesy of sponsor Wells Fargo. Women attend this year's Women of Destiny Mentoring Breakfast on Friday morning at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. (Syreeta Martin / For PhillyVoice)

A DESIRE FOR IMMEDIATE IMPACT

The Pennsylvania Society’s invite-only dinner is the premier event of an annual weekend retreat in the Big Apple that brings together political, civic and business leaders from Pennsylvania to discuss policy and the future. And while not every room reflects the roughly 24 percent of people of color in the Commonwealth, some events are changing that.

For example, the Women of Destiny Mentoring Breakfast, which immediately precedes The Forum for a Better Pennsylvania, was founded by four influential women in Philadelphia, including retiring Councilwoman Marian B. Tasco, Lynette Brown-Sow, vice president for marketing and government relations at Community College of Philadelphia; Melonease Shaw, CEO at Maven Inc.; and Wanda Bailey Green, finance director at Citizens for Kenyatta Johnson. In addition to gathering more than 100 women of color and influence annually, the Women of Destiny network also provides scholarships for rising women in leadership to attend the Pennsylvania Society weekend thanks to sponsorship from Wells Fargo.

As those events in New York City work to better represent and engage Pennsylvanians, the Pattison Leader Ball in Philadelphia shares that same goal and draws young professionals to Philadelphia from New York by the busload.

The growth is becoming more evident with each passing year.

“The first year we knew everyone, or at least one degree of separation [so] that’s wonderful that people are hearing about it,” said co-founder Nicole Allen White.

In addition to attendance and awareness of the ball, sponsorships have also served as a metric for measuring growth. This year USA250, a nonprofit planning America’s 250th birthday in 2026 to be hosted in Philadelphia, served as the title sponsor.

Keri Salerno, secretary of USA250, says the sponsorship made sense.

“This is a really great group to get in front of because in 10 years, if they’re not in decision-making power now, they definitely will be,” said Salerno, “so we need to bring them on board. They have a lot of great ideas, a lot of energy, and we want to harness that.”

The same energy that fuels the co-founders' passion to engage professionals in politics drives a desire to see immediate impact in Philadelphia. Subsequently, a portion of the proceeds from the ball benefit The Monkey & The Elephant, an organization founded by Lisa Miccolis that serves “coffee for a cause” by offering job and life skills training to foster youth who have aged out of the system. According to Allen White, their fundraising efforts helped Miccolis purchase new equipment for the café.

“We’re not here to make money,” said Allen White, “the small amount of money that we do raise for her is really impactful for [Lisa].”

'NO ONE THINKS WE'RE SERIOUS'

With another successful ball in the history books, and others like the Mayoral Pitch Party held last year for millennials, the focus is now on 2016.

“I guess we can break news that we are currently planning to do a Mayoral Pitch Party for the 2nd Congressional District,” said Allen White.

Come early 2016, once again, political candidates – this time congressional hopefuls – will stand before millennials and take three minutes to pitch why they should sign their petition. If they’re convincing enough, the candidates receive signatures on the spot. For Kellan White, events like this are critical because when it comes to millennials, “right now no one thinks we’re serious with anything; we don’t vote [and] we’re not involved on the level we should be.”

White says the future of the Pattison Leader Group and ball is to take the city to a place that others in the past haven’t.

“We’re figuring out where we can get young people involved in a substantive way,” he said. “We’re using Pattison Leader as a conduit to say, ‘Hey, we now have 200 people who are here. [Let’s] take that 200 and do something.' ”

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