A New Foundation Is Teaching The Community Through An Unlikely Game
Young men in Harlem are learning math and science though an unlikely ally: golf.
Just off 40 West and 117th Street in Harlem, New York, rests the Bridge Golf Foundation, a learning hub for young men of color to learn STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) through the sport of golf. After 2 p.m. the facility fills with young men hitting golf balls into a projector screen, complete with programmed golf courses, and analyzing their swing using cameras installed at each bay. Others work on their putting or read about golf in books pulled from a small library.
The Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, came to life by chance. Farrell Evans, a former writer with Sports Illustrated and ESPN, was paired with former Wall Street commodities trader Bob Rubin during a round of golf at Century Golf Club, just outside of New York City.
“We were out there talking, hitting golf shots, and he [Bob] asked me how I got into the game,” Evans recalled, “and I told him how I had grown up in Georgia, that my dad played and uncles had played, and that I had a strong network of African-American golfers I was part of.”
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Imagine being able to immerse yourself in the game of golf, but through the game, every other aspect of your life is going to be impacted.[/quote]
Rubin had a very different upbringing, growing up in New Jersey, attending boarding school, and later graduating from Yale. Rubin is also the principal owner of The Bridge, an eclectic golf course in Hamptons, which costs $950,000 to join. Later in the round, Evans asked Rubin, “Have you thought about doing something around golf in the city with kids?”
For the rest of the round, Rubin and Evans discussed what an inner-city golf facility would look like. A week after meeting, they met again to fully hash out their vision.
“It was Bob’s vision to create the learning center and build it in Harlem and from that meeting he said, ‘Farrell, I’m retired, so go out and figure the rest out.’”
Utilizing his experience as a journalist, Evans researched all the ins and outs of starting a foundation and found the location for the facility. In January 2015, the foundation was officially launched, and Evans left his employer, ESPN, to focus on the foundation full time
The plan for the foundation was simple: Make golf possible for the community in Harlem. To do this, the facility would also serve as a state-of-the-art learning facility called the Bridge Golf Learning Center. This setup allows people who want to take golf lessons or play golf on top-of-the-line simulators to do so with the proceeds funneling back into the foundation.
The main focus, however, is on the young men the foundation aims to reach. The foundation partnered with Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem, a public all-boys school 10 blocks away. Through their partnership, 20 young men were selected to be part of the rigorous after-school program that would combine STEM studies and golf.
“I want to prove that black and Latino boys can do math and science, and break the stereotype that we can’t,” said Antonio Cortoreal.
Antonio and his twin brother Juan, who are 15 years old, live in Harlem, where opportunity for a good education is particularly low. According to The New York Times, “In District 3’s Harlem schools, there are no gifted and talented programs. Of the six elementary schools there where students take the state tests, only one comes close to the citywide passing rates of 38 percent in reading and 36 percent in math. At one school, only 6 percent of third- through eighth-grade students passed the most recent math tests.”
The disparity of young men of color in STEM is hard to ignore. A study found that people of color received just 6 percent of all STEM bachelor’s degrees. Less than half of those went to black males.
While the foundation’s facility was under construction, the young men met at the Harlem YMCA. Randy Taylor, a teaching professional at the Foundation, recalled, “We rented out a whole entire building, and we had a STEM room, an education room, and the gym for golf, building ourselves a nice little indoor golf facility.”
Before Taylor started at the foundation, he ran a successful golf program at a golf club in Middlefield, Connecticut. Something intrigued him about the vision of the foundation, “I was personally exposed to golf when I was 11 in an inner city program. The program was not as good as this one, but it was a partnership between the Tiger Woods Golf Foundation and my school. I wouldn’t be here right now if I wasn’t exposed to golf then.”
It was through that exposure that Taylor saw a special opportunity to make an impact in the lives of young men, “It’s an urban community, which I can relate to very easily, and I really care about the boys here. These kids are the main reason why I am here,” Taylor said.
The new facility opened its doors in May 2016, decked out the with the latest in golf instructional equipment The boys come in after school for at least two hours of work with STEM tutors, who are university trained physicists. Herbert Brown, who holds a masters in optical physics, joined the team last year, “Unfortunately by the time someone is 17 to 20, they’re very resistant of what you want them to partake in. What I found is if you go to ages of 13 to 14, then you can reach those boys.”
Brown believes that repeatedly exposing kids to the concepts of STEM will help these men develop confidence. “I want them to know that other kids aren’t smarter than them, it’s just that they’ve seen the material more. So once our kids have the same exposure to STEM, they can go out do incredible things because they know they’re just as smart.”
Because the young men are learning golf simultaneously, they talk about magnus force, the vertex of air with the golf ball, how the golf ball performs differently based on the number of dimples on the ball, or how the attack angle when striking the golf ball applies to science and math.
Juan has found that having access to STEM tutors has helped him tremendously, stating, “The STEM part helps us a lot ’cause at school it’s hard to understand what the teacher is saying, and sometimes you don’t have time to go up and speak to him about what you’re struggling with. Here there are less kids, so you can talk to the instructors about the work we need to do in school, and they can help us with it.”
The foundation also works to instill life skills in their students through mentoring and character education. In their character education they implement a Character Growth Card, developed by the Character Lab, which empowers students to give feedback on their teachers and themselves and perceive their current strengths and weaknesses.
Antonio reflected on his time in the program, “At first, I wasn’t as well-mannered as I am now, but now I am better. And I’ve also learned to be a better public speaker.”
The program is also helping kids to dream bigger. Xavier Partee, 13, has major plans for his future, “I want to be basketball player, PGA golfer, or swimmer. And the other two are a photographer or author.”
While the birth of the Bridge Golf Foundation happened at a golf course, and while golf and STEM are at the core of everything, it is doing so much more; the program has provided a launching pad for the kids who come through the doors to their futures. It’s opening them up to new experiences, teaching them responsibility, and helping them improve their grades in the school. There are plans to expand the facility to different cities, but, for now, the foundation will keep its focus in the Harlem area and expand its partnership with the Eagle Academy to all of its six schools, with the goal to impact 6,000 young men in Harlem.
As for the the impact the foundation is having on lives of its students, Evans expressed with gratification, “Imagine being able to immerse yourself in the game of golf, but through the game, every other aspect of your life is going to be impacted: your education, your social skills, and self-confidence. We’re very much involved in their lives in a very deep way.”