by Caroline Kleiner
Oct. 17, 21
Renee Fluker, a social worker and single mother in Detroit, and her son Jason noticed a disparity in golf. Jason told his mother about being the only person of color at his tournaments as a high school student. He encouraged his mother find a way to allow other young people to benefit from the game he loved. Twenty years later, Midnight Golf has achieved all that and more.
Since its first class of 17 students in 2001, Midnight Golf has grown to 250 students a year.
The program’s partners have awarded more than $220,000 in scholarships, and 90 percent of its students go on to attend college.
“Midnight Golf is like a family and a social service,” Fluker, the founder and president, said. “We’re there to provide services and help [our students] stay in college.”
A prestigious after-school program targeted to high school seniors in the Detroit area Midnight Golf teaches students essential life skills like sportsmanship and interpersonal skills, and provides mentors and college success coaches for each student.
Fluker began with 17 “charter” members and a never failing “persistence,” in her words, to lobby the PGA for help with coaches, and funding.
“I was so determined,” Fluker told the PGA. “People would say ‘I have no money to give you.’ ‘You can’t do this, ain’t nobody going to do this for you.’ If I had to listen to what all these negative people had to say, there wouldn’t be Midnight Golf.”
During the program’s first twenty years, more than 3,200 students have passed through and nearly 60 mentors and PGA professionals contribute time and expertise to MGP, as the program is colloquially known. These mentors are not only essential for teaching high school seniors about the game of golf, but they help Fluker achieve one of her greatest priorities: ensuring each student goes to college.
Fluker’s focus on college is one reason why she chose to limit MGP to high school seniors, a group of young adults who Fluker and her team believes are often dissuaded from trying new hobbies and finding passions.
“There’s a feeling by some that if a student doesn’t have it figured out by their senior year, it’s too late. We focus on seniors who want to be successful but need that extra push and support to help reach their full potential,” MGP Communications Director Clover McFadden told Bob Denney at the PGA.
Echoing McFadden’s sentiments, Vice President and Program Director David Gamlin sees MGP as an important tool to give underserved seniors a sense of purpose and a path forward.
“Young people in Detroit are full of promise. What they need is direction because school is such a small aspect of what’s necessary for success. I hope that message spreads,” he said in an interview with The Undefeated in 2018.
One of the many success stories from MGP’s alumni includes Delshawn Fowler, who became the first person in his family to receive a college degree. Others, such as Tiffany Moore, gained a better understanding of business and expanded her professional network through the game of golf. But most, if not all of the graduates, including Fowler, Moore, and Jenise Williams, feel grateful for the lessons MGP taught them about investing in their own communities and giving back.
“As you advance in your career and life overall, it is your duty to reach back and pull as many people up with you as possible,” Williams told The Undefeated. “MGP made it known that we are not who we are merely off our own hard work. For that, we should pay forward the love and devotion others have poured into us, no matter how big or small.”
It is no surprise that MGP graduates feel a greater sense of duty toward their communities with a leader like Fluker, who is driven by her love of giving back.
“Helping and giving. I love to give. And if I don’t have it, I’m going to figure out a way how I’m going to give it to you,” Fluker said.
Fluker has found a way to help Detroit’s youth craft their own success stories, from college graduates like Fowler to students who are now PGA members, not only through golf, but through the familial-like support the program provides. This was especially evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which she ensured that each participant received a hot box of food to take home at the end of the night.
Fluker’s work at MGP helping high school seniors go to college and get involved in the game of golf has helped increase diversity in the game of golf, and she believes the thing that will make a lasting difference is exposure.
“We can expose our kids, we can expose our families and get them out there on the golf course so they can get an idea of what this golf course is about, what the etiquette — you know a lot of our people say, ‘Oh, it’s so stuffy,’ but it’s what you put into it to make it,” Fluker said.
Photo Credit: Youtube