He’s using golf to accomplish that mission.
Through his non-profit “Golf. My Future. My Game.”, founded in 2008 and headquartered in Washington, D.C., Kirby and his team teach a diverse group of young adults in areas of economic and racial disparity how to play golf while providing mentors who educate them about career opportunities available in the golf world.
“Truly what we do is we provide options for these kids so that they can have choices,” Kirby said.
The non-profit currently works with students in three locations — the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia (DMV) Metropolitan Area in the nation’s capital, Detroit and Columbus, Georgia. Two other locations are expected to begin operation in 2021 in Baltimore and Dayton, Ohio.
“Golf. My Future. My Game.”, which operates on the course June through early August, provides the necessary equipment, facilities and coaching for each student to grow as an athlete and individual as they learn to play golf. During the school year, the organization creates a classroom atmosphere to teach students the legacy of Black golfers like Lee Elder and Althea Gibson, who persevered despite the history of systemic racism ingrained in the game.
Using a sport that has historically limited and excluded involvement of Black athletes both through racism and economic disparity, “Golf. My Future. My Game.” is trying to change the narrative and bring in young men and women who the sport has excluded.
Kirby’s organization differs from similar sports mentorship and golf programs because it candidly addresses golf’s white, male-dominated and affluent history. He introduces the game with innovation, the non-profit is partnered with organizations like the National Parks Service, PGA of America, USGA and AJGA as well as community based organizations in each city to help the younger, multicultural generation visualize the opportunities in the golf world. In Detroit, “Golf. My Future. My Game.” has partnered with the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic while in Washington, D.C., it is partnered with Howard University’s School of Business. NBA star Steph Curry is currently involved in bringing back the Howard men’s and women’s golf teams.
Another differentiator of Kirby’s organization is its partnership with D.C.’s Department of Human Services over the past four years to open the program to young adults with what mentor Lennard Long described as, “low offense crimes or mild behavioral issues.” Alongside the Department of Human Services, Kirby analyzes each student’s history and determines if each is a fit for the program. If so, Kirby and his team build the program around the student’s life to maximize the impact of mentorship and quality time.
“These kids, especially the ones from the Department of Human Services, they made a bad choice. But guess what? That judge is giving them an option so they can make a better choice,” Kirby said. “So they can create a choice and when you sit back and you show these kids these young people that you care about them, then they care to do better.”
It’s been working.
Long, a former Morehouse golfer, has served as one of the organization’s 20 to 30 mentors for the past three years. The 23-year-old D.C. native still keeps in contact with many of the teenagers he mentored even after they leave the program. That’s not surprising considering how much time he spends with each student during the quiet hours on the course.
When discussing conversations he’s had with former students, Long, whose full-time job is Program and Communications Manager at First Tee, wanted to emphasize the mistakes students make don’t have to define them.
“I hear (their mistakes) and it’s just like, ‘Oh you were put in a position where you just didn’t know what to do and you lashed out.’ It’s a really unfortunate situation that happened,” Long said. “But for most of them I completely understand why that happened. I completely understand the factors that led up to that.”
Long understands the students he instructs and mentors because he too grew up in D.C. He also grew up idolizing basketball stars and using his athleticism on the court where Black athletes like him had more representation. At the age of 12, Long became interested in golf after watching a dominant Tiger Woods on TV. Long became involved in First Tee programs and quickly developed his talent to compete in junior and amateur events. He eventually earned a scholarship to play at Morehouse, the same university that his father, uncle and brother attended.
“Having someone like Lennard is so vital to us,” Kirby said. “I’m a huge believer in you can’t teach what you don’t know. And you can’t lead where you don’t go. Lennard grew up like these kids so he knows the challenges. He knows the pitfalls. He knows how to grab someone’s attention and that’s just invaluable as we pique their interest and create that connection.”
Long knows from experience that while his students don’t see as many faces like theirs on the course as they do on the hardwood, golf can do something for young adults that other sports can’t — it provides solitude.
Golf provides them with silence to reflect, space to be themselves and time to learn other options exist. The contrast from their stimulated everyday lives makes a noticeable impact.
“We’ve all gotten away with dumb stuff, but there are certain kids that got put in a certain position and one thing led to another and it derailed them even though they’re super brilliant and super talented,” Long said. “And once you put them in the system, it tricks their minds to think, ‘Okay, this is what I am.’ And that’s not the case whatsoever.”
Time on the course with mentors who understand them also gives these young men and woman an “identifier.”
“If they’re golfing, they’re the only ones in their family that golfs,” Long said. “They’re probably the only one in their schools that golf. So it gives them this identifier of, ‘I’m a golfer,’ ‘I’m doing something different,’ or ‘I like this. This is fun and I’m the only one doing this.’ It gives them that identifier for themselves to really choose their own narrative.”
While the program hopes students find that “identifier” as they’re presented with options for their present and future both on and off the golf course, Kirby and Long said the purpose of the program is not to build a next generation of golf stars. Rather, to help students learn they matter and they have the power of choice.
“For me, my biggest role is to be here as a resource for anything they need,” Long said. “I don’t expect you to be a pro golfer. If you want to play golf, I’m really happy to support you in that but in reality, I really just want you to understand yourself and understand you’re fully capable of all these things that you don’t understand that you can do and showing that through golf.”
Editor’s note: “Golf. My Future. My Game.” could not have its typical summer program in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, but is expected to be up and running with precautions in place in 2021.
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