Voting for the first time can be daunting or dull—especially in a pandemic. These women want to make it an experience to remember.
DETROIT, Mich.—Black Girls Vote (BGV) wants to combat voter apathy by encouraging voters to “party at the mailbox.”
“We work year-round, not just during the election,” Patricia Watson, BGV’s director of outreach, told The ‘Gander. “We try to make [voting] fun; we go anywhere, and we meet the people where they are.”
The national, nonpartisan nonprofit was founded on what would have been Shirley Chisholm’s 91st birthday in 2015. It works across communities to encourage civic engagement, especially among Black girls so they can grow into civically engaged adults.
What’s a Mailbox Party Anyway?
Each box includes information about what’s on the ballot, how to register, and how to fill out a ballot. It also includes posters, stickers, signs and other give aways.
The Story Behind the Mailbox Parties
BGV is the brainchild of founder Nykidra Robinson, a Baltimore woman who witnessed a murder outside her home. The trauma pushed Robinson into action, working to see meaningful policy and procedural changes that could impact her community—something that had been lacking with the low voter turnout in the communities that would be most affected by ballot decisions.
“Last election cycle was the first time voting by mail got really popular,” Watson said. “We saw the excitement around it and decided to bring that to other cities.”
Watson’s husband is a Detroit native and son of the late Susan Watson, a nationally renowned Detroit Free Press columnist and activist. When BGV decided it wanted to encourage voters to party at the mailbox, Detroit was one of the first cities on the expansion list.
“She [the late Watson] was a fierce supporter of BGV, and of making sure our community got the things we needed,” Watson said. “So, of course, Detroit was going to be on our list in honor of her.”
Now, BGV is giving away 10,000 party boxes to Detroit, Baltimore, and Philadelphia voters—and they’re completely free.
Why a Mailbox?
With more voters than ever using the US Postal Service to cast their ballots, BGV decided it wanted to create something else to look forward to when checking the mail for an absentee ballot: a party.
“We want to educate, empower, and excite voters,” Watson said. “The response has been outstanding.”
Initially, the group only had Baltimore volunteers. Through a network of social media friends and interactions, the engagement doubled overnight. More than 2,000 Detroit voters have already requested their free box.
Sirrita Darby says she got interested in the organization when she saw someone post their mailbox party online.
“It’s really bringing more young people into this concept of making voting fun and showing first-time voters how to vote,” Darby, executive director of Detroit Heals Detroit, told The ‘Gander. “I was excited [about the campaign] because there were so many people registered to vote in Detroit for the primary [election] and not a lot of people actually voted.
Our organization is a youth-led organization and a lot of our youth just turned 18. We’re big on civic engagement, so when we found out about this opportunity to partner with this organization to really drive voter turnout, we were excited.”
Detroit Heals Detroit is promoting the boxes among first-time voters in the city, hoping to get them interested in the inner workings of city government.
“When you think about early voting, it’s a lot of older people,” Darby said. “But I really want to make it a point to our young people to vote early.”
Darby, who has worked as an educator in Detroit Public Schools and is pursuing a doctorate in the field, warned against the dangers of voter suppression.
“It’s real,” she said. “But if you get your vote in early, your vote will count. We want to make sure our young people can do that and we love the idea of making [voting] a party.]
There’s still time to get a party delivered to your Detroit mailbox. Voters can visit PartyAtTheMailbox.com/Detroit to request a box, but supplies are limited and all requests may not be fulfilled.