Here's how a social calendar turned into a mission to engage, empower and connect - Generocity Philly

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Aug. 23, 2016 12:47 pm

Here’s how a social calendar turned into a mission to engage, empower and connect

Through his work convening cross-sector leaders of color, the Urban Philly Professionals Network founder is actively ensuring that “diversity” and “inclusion” become more than just buzzwords.

Sulaiman Rahman.

(Courtesy photo)

This essay is an installment of Generocity’s ongoing “leaders of color” guest post series, in which local leaders of color write about their experiences of leadership within Philly’s social impact community. Read more about our intentions here.


What started off as a way to find social events in the city for young black professionals has turned into a mission to foster the next generation of business and civic leadership.

During my college days at the University of Pennsylvania, I was the go-to guy for Philly social life because very few of my friends and classmates were from the Philadelphia area, as I was. In 2000, I built on this need for social information and launched a 500-recipient-strong electronic newsletter listing parties, mixers, concerts and other social gatherings. This paved the way for the UrbanPhilly website, which over seven years grew to 30,000 subscribers and 3,000 marketers submitting events.

UPPN (Urban Philly Professional Network) grew out of UrbanPhilly in 2007 to curate more engaging and empowering social and networking opportunities for black professionals ages 25 to 45. My efforts in growing that platform generated increased social capital, opened doors to board service and facilitated thought leadership across a range of ecosystems in the city. In 2010, I became the chairman of the African American Chamber of Commerce of PA, DE & NJ and merged my network and resources to attract a new generation of entrepreneurs.

I grew increasingly disappointed by the signs and personal experiences reflecting the growing disparity of inclusion of African Americans in the growth of the city.

Then in 2012, I stepped down from the Chamber and other local boards and committees to focus my attention on an international business project that required me to travel the globe. By 2014, that business provided more time freedom and a comfortable financial cushion for my family in the suburbs of Philadelphia. With an education plan in place for our children, my wife and I decided to look back into city living, realizing the growth opportunities taking shape in Philadelphia.

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As I began to re-engage more with the city, I grew increasingly disappointed by the signs and personal experiences reflecting the growing disparity of inclusion of African Americans in the growth of the city. I decided to relaunch UPPN in 2015 to help level the playing field.

One of our first program initiatives, Black Voters Matter, exemplified our new focus on civic engagement, empowerment and connectivity, providing a platform to discuss critical community concerns with the city power brokers while cultivating the next generation of civic leaders.

Our forthcoming initiative, Diverse Force, will deliver top-notch board training and merit-based matching to select members in our network, helping to diversify the city’s corporate and nonprofit boards. We aim to usher in a new era of value-driven community impact. We will also continue to facilitate networking events and connections for our broader network to expand opportunities for civic engagement and economic development across the city.

Throughout my life I’ve witnessed firsthand the significant aspirations and accomplishments of achievers from diverse social and economic backgrounds. I’m also well aware of the aspiration gap — the idea that, in marginalized communities, there are very few role models and little to no infrastructure to support the high aspirations that fuels hope and commitment.  As a result of this gap, the common narrative gets distorted, projecting damaging stereotypes and devaluing the lives of community members who, when provided with an opportunity, are tremendously capable of achieving economic success and civic engagement.

As UPPN’s chief empowerment officer, my aim is to position Philadelphia — the birthplace of our nation — as the model for how cities reinvent themselves by fully leveraging the vastly underutilized talents and knowledge of citizens who are most often overlooked. Through this work, “diversity” and “inclusion” will become more than just buzzwords. They will be principles and practices woven into the fabric of our great city.

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