DETROIT – Roaring laughter – and a little friendly trash talk – was heard in the Little Caesars Arena interview room only minutes before the start of the Detroit Pistons game against the Indiana Pacers on March 20. 

Jalen Rose Leadership Academy freshman basketball coach Demarcus Wingate sat on the podium where Pistons players normally take questions from the media. To his right sat Platinum Equity VP Vince Ellis, who provided some order to the proceedings by calling on JRLA students, who were eager to ask probing questions about the upcoming faculty-senior class basketball game. 

Well, they weren’t exactly questions. It was actually taunting about the upcoming beatdown they were planning for the faculty as fellow students, parent hosts, and JRLA and Platinum Equity representatives laughed.

After Wingate stepped down, some JRLA students took their turns at the podium to take questions and shared their hopes and dreams as onlookers nodded in approval or snapped their fingers lightly to signal affirmation. For a few minutes, some students were able to experience what it’s like to field questions from the media, which could set in motion plans to make such a scene a reality for the students in the future. 

The mock press conference, an improvisation from Ellis, was a major highlight of a day-long mentorship program Platinum Equity sponsored for JRLA, the third such event hosted by the private equity firm. The event was also the kickoff to a series of mentorship outreach opportunities with the JRLA senior class that will culminate with graduation exercises in June.

“I was blown away by that press conference,” parent volunteer Koron Dorsett said. “The students were talking about the press conference for days after the event; it was the highlight of the night.” 

Dorsett’s son, Ethan, has been a participant in the program since the beginning.

“It really turned into this amazing experience,” said Platinum Equity Head of Corporate Marketing Katie Hulgrave, who is the primary organizer of the program. “The students were asking questions and role playing; you saw everyone’s personality come out and what incredible students they are.” 

The day started with a mentorship program at the Pistons Performance Center a short distance away and concluded with a game-night experience in an LCA suite. For the first time, Platinum Equity also announced a donation of $25,000 for college scholarships.

“It’s important to have mentors; they provide a support system, a sense of family, and I’m fortunate to experience this every day at Platinum,” VP of M&A Execution Chris So said. “(Platinum Equity founder) Tom Gores is deeply passionate about the Detroit community and giving back, and we are fortunate to be in a position to make an impact on the lives of these high-achieving scholars.”

“That’s why I love coming to Platinum, and it motivates me to provide the same level of support to these students.”

Tom Gores, Jalen Rose friendship fuels mentorship

Inspired by the friendship between Gores and the school’s co-founder, Jalen Rose, Platinum Equity introduced the mentorship program in 2022 after serving as the longtime presenting sponsor for the school’s annual golf fundraiser in the summer. The mentorship program was natural evolution.

Fifteen professionals from Platinum Equity supported the program with several juggling diligence meetings in other markets to make the event. Just before leaving the PPC to catch a flight to attend a meeting in south Florida, Lindsay Saldebar, a senior associate, said it was important for her to be there because she has had impactful mentors in her life.

“Ever since I was in high school, college and in my short time in the professional world, I’ve always had mentors that have helped me navigate my professional and personal life,” Saldebar said. “When I was thinking about potentially being a mentor myself, I thought about the impact it has had on me, and it’s an opportunity that not only excites me, but it’s also a fantastic way to be that resource for someone else.”

The day officially started when buses picked up students at the school located in Rose’s old neighborhood in northwest Detroit. After a period of mingling with Platinum Equity and Pistons mentors, a speed networking exercise was held with mentees.

Students and mentors sat at six different tables in the PPC Brinker Loft with each table featuring a stack of questions written on cards. Then students rotated tables to interact with the different mentors.  

One question: If you could switch bodies with someone else, who would it be? 

“That was my favorite question because the first person I thought of was my best friend because he can crochet better than me,” JRLA senior Henry Jones said. “I would be him so I could crochet all the stuff I want to and then just change back to me.”  

Jones plans to attend Morgan State (Md.) University and dreams of becoming a psychologist with a focus on African-American mental health.  

“Freshman year of high school I was a hot mess and not going to class,” Jones said. “Now, I’m far from where I used to be, and I am very proud of that. JRLA is so accepting, and I love it.”  

To further support the students, Platinum Equity announced three $8,000 scholarships for JRLA seniors. After the day, mentors and mentees were asked to fill out questionnaires geared toward finding a match. Once matched, Platinum and Pistons mentors will nominate their student mentees by submitting a short essay as to why their student should be awarded one of these scholarships. Administrators at JRLA will review and make the final selection for each award. The remaining $1,000 will be distributed by JRLA to mentees for book scholarships or other needs.

“We wanted to structure the scholarship in a way that encouraged connections between the mentors and the mentees,” Hulgrave said. “As mentors, they get to nominate their students and see what criteria they most belong in and then JRLA decides who receives the final awards.”

After the mentorship exercise, the students received a tour of the PPC, which serves as the Pistons’ corporate headquarters. The students received a behind-the-scenes look at Pistons business operations to show career options in professional sports. There was of course time for getting up shots on the practice court.

Then it was time for the game-night experience.

Students were seated courtside for the pregame workouts of players. The JRLA group received a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of an NBA game before the group was escorted to the suite.  

The suite was filled with game-night favorites like chicken wings, pizza, macaroni and cheese, candy and cookies.  

Pistons dancers and mascot Hooper also dropped by during the game.

“The mascot coming up scared me,” JRLA senior Keylee Miller said with a laugh. “They showed us and our school on the Jumbotron too so it was a nice experience.”

She added: “Having a mentor will help guide me and give me better opportunities. They can push me towards the right direction and help me stay motivated.” 

Hulgrave hopes the experience will promote meaningful relationships between Platinum Equity officials and JRLA students.

“It has become more than just cutting a check,” Ellis said. “When you want to be truly impactful you have to be there, on the ground, providing mentorship, providing access to opportunities, jobs, internships and whatever it may be that Platinum can do to help these kids reach their goals.”  


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