If you’d peered into the backyard of a particular home in Detroit’s Palmer Woods neighborhood last summer, you’d likely have caught sight of some 30 millennials mingling over bottomless mimosas and oversized games, debating over the game Jenga and swaying to the music blaring from giant speakers.
But this wasn’t just any young adult get-together. This was “Brunch at Mario’s,” a summertime gathering of young professionals that is equal parts party, brainstorming session and networking conclave.
The event is the brainchild of current Wayne State University graduate student Mario Morrow Jr., who is pursuing his master’s degree in communications and expects to graduate next May. As Morrow sees it, the brunch event, which he plans to expand this summer, disrupts the corporate culture by providing millennial movers and shakers the opportunity to connect over their favorite activities. Traditionally, networking events are centered around business card exchanges and business casual attire, but Morrow wanted to bring his personal beliefs about networking to his backyard — literally.
“There’s a stigma to networking, as if there’s a scientific formula to your elevator pitch, and your 30 seconds,” said Morrow, whose father, Mario Morrow Sr., is himself a high-profile communications strategist in Detroit. “To me, it doesn’t have to be that way. To our generation, networking is having fun.”
The concept of Brunch at Mario’s was developed after Morrow and his close friends Chris Jefferson and Javion Johnson were having a conversation about how to provide innovative networking experiences to millennial professionals. From their conversation, they birthed not only the invite-only brunch, but the event experience brand, CMJ Connections — the name deriving from each of their initials.
Morrow said the aim and purpose of CMJ Connections is to connect young professionals in the metro Detroit area, with Brunch at Mario’s being their staple event.
Brunch at Mario’s isn’t only about having fun. At each brunch, CMJ Connections honors a local nonprofit organization and presents it with a monetary donation.
Initially, Morrow and friends struggled to draw a crowd; the first event was only 30 people. Soon after, Morrow began to use his public relations skills to market the event recap video on social media, and the buzz began to spread. At the second backyard gathering a month later, attendance had nearly tripled.
“After the second one, people just kept asking, ‘So what’s next? I like the fact that we’re networking, and it’s fun,’” said Morrow. “It’s not a party, but we’re having fun while networking. Everyone is leaving with business cards, and business deals have been made from the brunches and our (CMJ Connections) events.”
The connections didn’t stop at attendees. Morrow himself also connected with local millennial business owners, many of whom were looking to secure public relations services. Organically, Morrow began to branch out and establish his own public relations firm, KasPR Management Group.
This summer, Morrow is anticipating taking Brunch at Mario’s on tour. Last summer’s buzz has generated interest in Chicago and Washington, D.C. This brunch season, CMJ Connections is playing around with new elements to keep the event fresh. What won’t change, however, is the group’s dedication to innovative millennial networking, and nonprofit philanthropy.
However, despite his recent success and his family roots in public relations, Morrow confesses that working in the family business was not always a part of the plan.
“It’s weird because where I am now,” said Morrow, “and where I’m starting in my career, is kind of where people finish. I say that because at the end of almost everyone’s road professionally — you go into consulting, working for yourself. But that’s where I started. It was never my goal, it was never my plan, but I’m juicing it, making the connections that I need.”
In 2017, while in Chicago, Morrow earned a degree in organizational communications. During his time in Chicago he held a host of internships focused on nonprofit public relations, with efforts on the city’s West and South sides.
After completing his degree, Morrow said he had to make one of the hardest calls in his life, choosing to turn down a job at an investment bank to return to Detroit and work with his parents. Once back in his hometown, Morrow decided that getting his master’s degree early in his career would be best. He said he chose Wayne State because he believed the university’s location and relevancy to the growth in Detroit fit perfectly with his career trajectory.
That said, even Morrow seems a little surprised at how quickly he’s found success, especially while still attending college. “I didn’t plan on any of this when I first moved home,” he said. “I thought I would come home and work with Pops and just be straight. I didn’t expect anything like this.”