💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
Philadelphia resident Akayla Brown is only 17, so she can’t yet cast a ballot. That hasn’t stopped the nonprofit founder and her team of Gen Z volunteers from working hard to get out the vote in the 2020 election.
The project aims to fill the gap left by the pandemic’s shutdown of traditional in-person GOTV efforts, stepping in with mailed gift boxes full of local goods and voter encouragement swag. Launched by Black Girls Vote, a nonpartisan nonprofit that targets Black women aged 18 to 25, Party at the Mailbox debuted earlier this year in Baltimore — and had a measurable impact.
Normally around this time, according to founder Nykidra Robinson, Black Girls Vote would be orchestrating things like high school takeovers, where BGV staff does in-person work like driving eligible high schoolers to their locations for registration or early voting.
“We went to the cafeteria, had DJs, had photo booths at these high schools,” Robinson, 37, told Billy Penn. “With COVID, we couldn’t do any of that. So our shift was, how do we bring the party to them individually?”
She came up with Party at the Mailbox to get the message across in a fun way.
Here’s how it works. The BGV team sources local goods and snacks, and packs them into gift boxes that also include voter resources. People are invited to sign up to be on the list to get the packages. At a certain date, recipients are chosen, and the gifts go out.
Party at the Mailbox had its first go during the Baltimore primary in June, where locals loved the idea. “It became the ‘it’ thing,” Robinson said. “People were at the doors, running to get them.”
The effort, which saw 2,000 boxes go out, also had an effect at the polls. An analysis commissioned by BGV found that when a party box was sent to an address with so-called low propensity voters (aka folks who aren’t likely to vote), residents of the household were 12.5% more likely to cast a ballot. In all, individuals who received the boxes were 2.5% more likely to vote than those who didn’t.
That measurable success landed BGV a sponsorship from the National Conference on Citizenship, and an expansion of the initiative to Philadelphia and Detroit.
Philly’s box will be stuffed with Peanut Chews, Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets, voting posters, and t-shirts designed by a Temple student. About 10k of them will be distributed at some point before Election Day.
There will also be an actual party, a virtual one. Robinson and team are working to secure a well-known Philly DJ for the bash, which will also feature giveaways and some friendly competition between the three Party at the Mailbox cities.
You don’t have to have received a box to attend the celebration. “It’s been a tough year for some people. Celebrate just being here,” Robinson said.
Folks are also encouraged to attend partner organization events, like the one Akayla Brown of Dimplez 4 Dayz helped host on Saturday.
She used some of her $2,500 grant to provide t-shirts, lunches and other resources for her team of young, engaged volunteers. They held music-filled voter registration pop-ups around the city at places like 52nd Street, 60th and Woodlawn and the Art Museum.
The under-18 Brown hopes Philadelphians will cast a ballot on her behalf.
“I feel like we’ve seen what the Black community can do on its own when it comes together,” Brown said. “They need to get out there in November and vote. And that’s just that.”