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Open Your Eyes

Updated: Mar 9

Claims of 'wokeness a disservice to diversity

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on April 27, 2023)

Author: Dr. RL Booker

Editor: Veronica Mobley



Photo of Kamaiu Johnson and Jan Auger  (photo referenced at links below)
Kamaiu Johnson and Jan Auger (photo referenced at links below)

Kamaiu Johnson is a six-time winner on the Advocates Professional Golf Association Tour (APGA). The APGA was created in 2010 by retired Nestlé executive Ken Bentley and former PGA Tour pro Adrian Stills with the goal of bringing greater diversity to the game of golf by working with inner-city youth from minoritized communities. While Kamaiu's success on the golf course may look like the picture-perfect American Dream story, the details paint a much different picture, as is the case for many Black Americans

In 2006, Kamaiu Johnson was a 12-year-old eighth-grader living with his single-parent mother in Madison, Fla., the poorest city in the state. For years, Madison's poverty rate has hovered around 35%, while the average poverty rate across U.S. cities is around 13%. Eventually, he and his mother moved to Tallahassee. In a 2021 interview with Sky Sports Golf, Kamaiu stated that at 12 years old he dropped out of school.

One day, young Kamaiu was playing in front of his apartment, swinging a stick like a golf club, when a white woman named Jan Auger approached and asked Kamaiu if he would like to hit golf balls at a local golf course. Kamaiu accepted and quickly made a habit of going to the driving range. Over time, Ms. Auger told him she would only charge him $1 per day to play golf. This offer was much more than an act of kindness. Auger was using her power to provide access for Kamaiu. "It was life-changing for me, and really got me going in the right direction," Kamaiu said.

One of the membership requirements for the APGA Tour is that the person must be a minority. According to thegolfwire.com, the Professional Golfers Association Tour (PGA) has been financially supporting the APGA since 2012. In today's climate, some might view the PGA's partnership with a minority-only tour as "too woke."

The PGA was founded in 1929. On Jan. 19, 1952, the PGA committee, for the first time, voted to allow Black golfers to compete in PGA-sponsored events even though they did not remove a "Caucasian-only clause" until 1961. Joe Louis, former heavyweight boxing champion and the first Black golfer to compete in a PGA event, stated, "This is the last major sport in America in which Negroes are barred ... It's about time that it is brought into the open."

Charlie Sifford, who was the first Black person to play on the PGA Tour stated, "They didn't let us play nowhere for a long time. It ain't easy catchin' up now. Not without money and without real good golf courses to play on ... we just got a lot of catchin' up to do."

In 2022, during his World Golf Hall of Fame speech, Tiger Woods stated, "Playing at some of the country club golf courses as a junior, I was not allowed in the clubhouses where all the other juniors were ... The color of my skin dictated that." The same player who is widely considered the greatest golfer of all time was consistently discriminated against because of the color of his skin.

Of the more than 28,000 PGA of America members, less than 1 percent are Black and less than 10 percent are women. The vast majority of these PGA members credit Tiger Woods for their overall ability to earn money at a high level. Imagine if Tiger had given up on golf because of racism. Now, consider the impact that people from minoritized communities could have on everyone's quality of life if they did not have to continually fight discrimination and the lack of access.

As we begin to unpack the reality of how difficult it has been for minoritized communities to break into the game of golf, there are two Black entrepreneurs who deserve to be included in the accessibility story. Olajuwon Ajanaku and Earl A. Cooper are the founders of Eastside Golf. They are shaking up the sports apparel industry. Olajuwon was born in Atlanta, Ga., and Earl Cooper was born in Wilmington, Del. They met at Morehouse College where they were both members of the 2010 golf team, the team that won the 24th Annual PGA Minority Collegiate Golf Championship.

After college, Olajuwon turned pro and won a few mini-tour events. Eventually, he had to quit and get a 9-to-5 job because playing professional golf was too expensive. After leaving professional golf, he decided to make a golf logo. He created the logo of himself: a black man swinging a golf club while wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, and a gold chain. Earl encouraged him to put the logo on a shirt, and thus, Eastside Golf was born on June 1, 2019.

In July 2021, Eastside Golf was the first company to partner with the Jordan brand developed by Michael Jordan. This partnership has given their company even more visibility. One tenet of Eastside Golf is to call out injustice/inequity in the golf world. Their mission is to create a lifestyle golf brand that will raise awareness about golf among youth and non-golfers while inspiring Black culture, promoting diversity and maintaining the company's authenticity.

As we continue to see political leaders and uninformed citizens deny the realities of minoritized communities, I would not be surprised if more people like Jan Auger, more organizations like the PGA, and even start-up companies like Eastside Golf are one day deemed as being too "woke." As citizens of an informed and diverse society, I challenge each of us to interrogate what people (especially politicians) are really saying when they continue to misappropriate the word "woke" in relation to diversity, equity, inclusion, or even access to opportunities like the game of golf.

 

Eastside Golf Founders

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