The interior of restaurant bar and grill Irie Entree. Standing at the back of the room before an audience is Chikezie Wood, President of the YCPN, holding a microphone. He is a Caribbean man with dyed blond hair, wearing business casual clothing.
Chikezie Wood speaks before an audience in Irie Entree. Photo credit: Eliot Olaya/AL DÍA.

Meet the professional network sending Caribbean athletes to the Penn Relays


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In annual event, the Penn Relays bring in thousands of athletes and spectators to the relay races. Over the course of three days — April 27 to April 29 — athletes competed against one another on an international stage.

Of these athletes, many are from the Caribbean, including Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Bahamas, Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada.

But Penn does not fund these athletes’ expenses, nor any other costs they incur while staying in the U.S. or while competing. Instead, they are required to find other ways to afford entry.

The Young Caribbean Professional Network (YCPN) was founded to engage and support Caribbean and Latino students and professionals in their personal, professional, and business growth. It seeks to aid those aged 18-45 located or working within the Greater Northeast Region of the United States.

For the past 15 years, YCPN has been a partner to Team Jamaica Bickle, another nonprofit organization that aids students not just from Jamaica, but from across the Caribbean, as well.

As Team Jamaica Bickle seeks to raise an approximate $70,000 annually to bring athletes to the Penn Relays, YCPN seeks to fundraise and donate to cover $10,000 of their costs. The money goes towards covering all the athletes' expenses, including hotels, food, physical therapy, and travel costs.

On April 27, 2023, the YCPN hosted an event, titled the YCPN Penn Relays Reception, to raise funds to cover the costs needed for Caribbean athletes to attend this year’s Penn Relays; a total cost of $10,000.

This year, the Penn Relay Reception was hosted by Irie Entree, a Philadelphia based Jamaican restaurant and bar.

Chikezie Wood is the YCPN’s President and began his tenure a year ago, though he has been with the organization for the past seven years since college, rising through the ranks to get where he is today.

As President, Wood coordinates and manages the organization's goals — including fundraising goals — as they connect professionals and students to one another and raise money.

“These are college students who have applied to us, demonstrated need, but also demonstrated excellence in their academics as well as community service. We look for those two, as we are a community service organization,” Wood explained during the reception event.

In addition to supporting athletes, the YCPN awards scholarships for academic merit. Over the years, these scholarships have grown from $500 each, to $2500 alongside the number of recipients.

As of last year, they awarded nearly $50,000 in scholarships.

One recipient is Marissa Kesse, one of YCPN’s students, and a senior at the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, she is studying nursing with the goal of entering law school to have an impact on health care policy.

Kesse is also the President of Penn Ghana, a student organization for Ghanaian students on campus.

During a networking event held by YCPN, she connected with numerous lawyers and those with positions in politics, many of whom were in places Kesse hoped to be herself.

From these networking events, Kesse was able to both secure a scholarship from YCPN, and a paid internship with a Philadelphia law firm to continue her studies.

Events like these circle back into the YCPN’s three main tenets: connect, give back, and have fun, Wood explained.

To foster connections, the YCPN hosts networking events to put members in contact with executive level staff of companies so they can learn about the positions and benefit from these introductions.

For their second tenet, they seek to raise money to support their students. This money funds their initiatives, and the various events that Wood coordinates. As for their goals of having fun, events like the reception provide a more relaxed pace on a typical networking event, allowing for socializing to happen naturally.

As of the end of the Penn Relay Reception, YCPN raised a total amount of $32,000.

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