The Midnight Golf Program

“Only negros sit in the back. You are Black young men and women,” Mr. Gamlin panned the room looking at all of the Midnight Golf students moving to the front “so you will sit in the front”.

My eyes shot up immediately.

Did he just say what I think he said? I thought to myself

As I continued to look around the room, eyes blinking rapidly, I saw multiple people rising out of their seats to move to the front. I knew he was right, but I was shocked at how bold he was. As everyone settled in their newly found seats in the front I thought it was quite beautiful, and even empowering.

“It’s not the 1960’s anymore. It’s 2022” Gamlin said

I remember in early October (2021) when my parents first told me that I had to interview for The Midnight Golf Program. A program that I had never heard of, nor did I care to join. I hadn’t the slightest idea as to how to play golf, so there was no way that I was going to pass the interview. The odds were not in my favor. I quickly ran to grab my laptop to do some research so that I could have a fighting chance at getting a spot in the program. The days leading up to the interview my pessimistic attitude would soon change, as I learned more about the program from my online research . The day of the interview I did thorough research on the program, and after thirty minutes of my extensive research I had a decent idea as to what the program was about. What I summed the program up to be was: Golf and money. I thought that was all I would be doing if I was accepted into the program. Playing golf and applying to scholarships, which I was not looking forward to.

In my interview with Midnight Golf I learned that the program wasn’t focused on my grades, what highschool I attend, or even my tax bracket. I thought that it was amazing that such a prestigious program didn’t focus on those superficial things like other programs. All they wanted to know was who I am as a person and if I would be able to dedicate two days out of my week to attend the program. I also had to be Black, that was a requirement too, which I didn’t think would be too difficult.

During the interview I was afraid that I wouldn’t make the cut because I didn’t have enough extracurricular activities and volunteer experience on my resume. But later I learned that students with an overwhelming amount of extracurriculars that were interviewed got cut because they wouldn’t have enough time to fit Midnight Golf into their schedule.

The first two months of programming all we did was golf and then we were sent home. I would think to myself on my drive back home “This is it? This is why my parents are going insane about Midnight Golf?” I was livid, where were all the scholarship opportunities that my mother had told me about. I felt as though I was giving up my Tuesdays and Thursdays to participate in a sport that I didn’t enjoy playing.

I decided to try and make the most of my golfing experience by attempting to socialize with the people around me. I learned that most of the students that I talked to had similar stories to mine. Their parents told them about The Midnight Golf Program, didn’t give them much information on it, and the next thing they knew they were in the interview room advocating for themselves as to why they should be a part of a program they had no clue about a week prior.

The more I attended programming, the more friends I made. With each day things seemed to be getting a bit easier. I was talking to people from different schools, hearing about their lives, what schools they wanted to attend, their hopes and dreams, and how much they despised golf as much as I did. I’m not a very social person, and I would most definitely consider myself an introvert, but in order for me to make connections with my peers as well as mentors, I had to step out of my comfort zone. Something that I realized later on in programming was that Midnight Golf had helped me socialize more, even as an introvert. Not only were my golf skills improving, but my social skills were improving as well.

One mentor who really helped with that transition was Mr. Kim. Everyday that I saw him, he would always have a bright smile on his face that could instantly brighten anyone's day.

“Hey Kaitlyn! How’s it going?” he would smile as he raised his hand to high five me

That small interaction reminded me what Midnight Golf was about. It reminded me that these people are here to help me grow and succeed. On my first day of programming I even recognized some Groves students which helped to soften the blow of being in a new place with people I had never met before. Although there were some students that I encountered who had been playing golf for years, everytime I turned in their direction I would hear a ‘Ting!’ The sound of a perfect golf swing. It took my back to the days when my dad used to drag me to the driving range and make my sister and I swing our golf clubs. I never liked golf very much, but now that I was in a program largely based on my ability to play golf, I regret not trying harder. I didn’t fret much, throughout the entire 2 months of being at the Beachwoods Driving Range there were plenty of mentors giving us tips and instructions on how to improve our golf swing. We were told that we would have to play golf on an actual golf course at the end of the program in April, but that was months away. So I mainly talked with friends and focused on enjoying my time there.

I tried my best to stay in the present and not think too much about all of the skills I would have to develop by spring. What softened the blow even more was the fact that after I golfed in the chilly fall weather for what felt like hours, I could look forward to warm delicious food. The mentors would pass out meals for us to take home after programming. We would get things like mac and cheese, collard greens, yams, and chicken sandwiches. I always looked forward to walking back to the station where they passed out food, trying to guess what kind of food they were going to give us just by the smell.

After the temperature began to drop we finally moved to the second phase of programming where we wouldn’t just learn about golf, but where we would learn valuable life skills that we could apply to our personal lives and our college career. Every week I had the privilege of listening to speakers from all walks of life, I even had the chance to talk with them after everyone dispersed for tea time and golfing. Each speaker had something different and unique to offer me. They spoke about a wide variety of topics such as how to be financially responsible for college. They would give tips about taking advantage of the meal plan provided by the university as well as the transportation provided by the university. Getting a part time job was also something speakers encouraged if students have the time. Speakers touched on how to be safe and be aware of your surroundings as a new adult navigating a college campus. Speakers suggested going places in pairs or in a group if I know that I am going to be out late, and making sure you share your location with trusted friends or roommates. My favorite topic that was spoken on was studying tips and skills that will help keep our grades up. They mentioned that I need to stay organized, as soon as I know the due date for an assignment to write it out, and sit in the front of the class so I have a better chance at understanding the content. The presenter that stuck out the most to me was, Chuney-Jackson. He spoke on how he let peer pressure get the best of him as well as all the stress that comes with being a college student, buckling under all of the weight. “I was doing things that I shouldn’t be doing, things that I could never open up to Mr.Gamlin about” Jackson said It really resonated with me because at the time I was going through a lot myself. I felt as though I could not reach out to the trusted adult figures in my life, because what I was doing took such an immense toll on my mental health. That small interaction allowed me to understand that I was not alone and that there were people who understood and who want me to open up about how I'm feeling and what I'm going through.

Along with the amazing life skills I was taught about, there were a plethora of scholarships that were offered to Midnight Golf students specifically. When the mentors finally mentioned the first Midnight Golf specific scholarship, I felt myself let go of the breath I didn’t even know I had been holding. Scholarships were the entire reason I got into the program and I was finally able to apply to them. Although I knew that I would be attending the University of Michigan Ann Arbor with my full tuition paid , I still needed money for room and board. There are also other college expenses such as school supplies, furniture, and food, which are all necessary for me to have.

The event that the mentors put a lot of emphasis on was the Road Trip for Success. The Road Trip for Success is an annual road trip that Midnight Golf students go on, traveling to two different states, both different each year. The states for this year were Tennessee and Georgia. The itinerary on a Road Trip for Success consists of college visits, golfing on a golf course, exploring the major city in the state you were in with your roommates and a mentor, and a banquet with all of the Midnight Golf students. After Midwinter break that was all the mentors would talk about. Road trip this, road trip that , the road trip was anything anyone ever talked about. They talked about all the beautiful college campuses we would visit, the good food we would eat, being able to hangout with everyone, and not just the people from the Tuesday Thursday cohort. Cohorts in the context of The Midnight Golf Program are students who only come in on Monday and Wednesday, and then students who only come in on Tuesday and Thursday. There are about 250 people in the Monday and Wednesday cohort and about 250 people in the Tuesday and Thursday cohort. I already knew that I would be going on the road trip because I thought it would be a fun experience going down south.

The states that we would be traveling to during the road trip would be Tennessee and Georgia. I was excited to get away from the cold and inconsistent Michigan weather and finally be somewhere warm. Somehow I had forgotten what a proper road trip was and was shocked at the fact that we had to ride in a bus with no bathroom for 12 hours. I was devastated, but still, I persevered.

The night of the road trip I was ecstatic, I checked over my checklist with my mother one more time before finally leaving the house with my suitcase, my backpack, and of course, my golf clubs (purchased for us by the program).

Once we arrived in the parking lot where all the buses were lined up, I saw so many familiar faces that I had not seen in my cohort. There were also many new faces that I hadn’t seen. It was all so exciting seeing everyone without their Midnight Golf attire, which consisted of a collared golf shirt and slacks. Everyone was dressed comfortably with their covers and travel pillows, and the occasional stuffed animal. Once all the suitcases were loaded onto the bus we took a group photo. Everyone rushed onto their assigned bus once we took our final picture since it was so chilly. There were 6 buses, I was on bus 5. Towards the end of the trip we label ourselves ‘The Sleepy Bus’ because everytime we got on the bus everyone knew when it was time to go to sleep and when it was time to be loud, it’s as if we were in perfect sync.

Throughout the trip we visited Universities like Tennessee State University and Fisk University, Spelman University, Morehouse University, and Clark Atlanta University, most of which are historically African American Universities. The campuses and the weather were beautiful. I had only ever toured one school and that was the University of Michigan, so it was nice to be able to see other schools and get a feel for what it would be like if I were to actually attend in the fall.

In our free time we walked around the cities of Atlanta and Nashville with our assigned mentors. Before the trip everyone was assigned a group of three or four people (usually their roommates) and then they were given a mentor for whenever we had free time to wander around the city. At the end of the trip we had a fancy dinner at Commerce Club with everyone from both cohorts and it was amazing.

At the end of the trip the mentors chose representatives from each bus, 1 boy and 1 girl, to come up to a podium and talk about what Midnight golf means to them. Almost everyone's speech brought me to tears, it was eye opening to listen to how much Midnight Golf had impacted everyone. The phrase I most commonly heard was “At Midnight Golf, we are a family”.

Throughout these speeches I saw the large and positive impact that The Midnight Golf Program has had on the lives of my peers and it was beautiful to see. Some of my peers had issues at home and they were able to turn to their mentors and open up to them about it, some of my peers never had a close friend group but they were able to create close bonds with people on the road trip, and some people had no clue where they would get the money to pay for college and Midnight Golf opened up doors for them to get financial aid.

After the Road Trip for Success I felt closer to my peers and my mentors at Midnight Golf than I ever had before. I felt more confident in the bonds that I had built with my peers and my mentors. Although I didn’t realize it when I was going through the motions of it, towards the end of my time at Midnight Golf I realized that I had made amazing friends and connected with well established adults who will be there to support me throughout my college experience and adult life. In the beginning of the trip I didn’t expect to come back home any different than I left. Being assigned to the same bus for an entire week with all the same people and mentors allowed me to grow close to people I never thought I would know very well. We would talk all night long, do karaoke, reminisce on our early days at Midnight Golf, and just enjoy each other's company. It all went by so fast. It feels like only a few days ago I was learning how to hold a golf club for the first time, and in the blink of an eye I was playing on a golf course in Georgia with some of my favorite people.

Would I recommend this program to anyone? One hundred percent. Whether they are rising African American seniors or someone who wants to be a mentor or college success coach and help kids learn how to play golf or learn to develop better life skills and habits. Midnight Golf is a place where people can thrive and feel more confident about their decisions as a young adult. Midnight Golf is a place where you will grow into someone you never knew you could be, for the better of course. But as time goes on Midnight Golf will not be our usual meeting location at MaryGrove College, a place. Midnight Golf will always be the people, it always has been the people who make Midnight Golf the success that it is today. Wherever I go, my Midnight Golf family will be there.







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