Creative, dynamic and not afraid to shake things up, millennials are a force to be reckoned with, even in a city as steeped in tradition as New Orleans.
Each year, the most ambitious and philanthropic of these young professionals are recognized at the Millennials Weekend award ceremony. This year’s event, which includes a cooking competition, panels, and a closing soiree, is Friday and Saturday at the National World War II Museum.
Spears Group CEO and event organizer Cleveland Spears created the Millennials Weekend as a way to recognize how the younger generation has reshaped New Orleans.
“In recent years, there has been an influx of young vitality and of rebranding. It’s the No. 1 brain gain in the country. I think this is a way for us to stop and say, ‘We appreciate what you do in this city and our society,’ ” Spears said.
More than 20 awards are being handed out this year in a variety of categories including education, law, innovation, journalism, fashion, business and health care.
For fashion designer, K’Pich Designs owner and New Orleans native Kristine Pichon, being nominated for her work in bringing New York City fashion know-how to the Big Easy was rewarding, she said.
“It was a surprise, but it was a wonderful surprise. It means a lot because I’ve really worked so hard for so many years to be recognized,” Pichon said.
Cherie Melancon Franze, another New Orleans native, received a nomination this year for Thinkerella, a business determined to make learning fun for kids, whether it’s at a birthday party or in the classroom.
“We are a STEAM program — that’s science, technology, engineering, art and math —for kids 3 through 13. We do birthday parties, Scout sessions and camps, and in addition to that, we have an after-school program called Thinker Kids that was in 17 schools this past school year,” Franze said.
Franze’s ultimate goal for her business is to get it into inner-city New Orleans schools where it is needed most, she said. Franze, like Pichon, wants to give the next generation of New Orleans entrepreneurs a head start.
“If kids enjoy the aspects of STEAM and grow up and say, ‘I want to be a scientist too, or an engineer,’ then they grow up, they go to college, and they open up their own companies and bring jobs to New Orleans. I want this cycle to be way bigger than me,” she said.
Besides the awards, there are panels on Friday, which discuss the impact of millennials on New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, and a cooking contest inspired by the millennial generation.
Events and the awards ceremony are free this year, with the hope that folks will instead donate to one of three featured charities: Son of a Saint, Evacuteer and Liberty’s Kitchen.
Spears invites the community — millennial and otherwise — to join him in celebrating a new generation of creators and big thinkers in New Orleans.
“I think these kinds of things make young professionals feel invited and welcome … and that’s the reason we created The Millennials,” he said.
More information about the third annual Millennials Weekend can be found at millennialawards.com.