When the youth development organization First Tee launched 25 years ago, Tim Finchem, former PGA TOUR Commissioner, wanted to make the game of golf more accessible to kids from all walks of life. Through golf, he hoped to empower kids to build self-confidence and an inner strength that they could carry with them throughout their entire lives. After 25 years and 150 chapters all over the country, the program is still reaching young people who continue to go on to accomplish some amazing things. Since 2012 Wells Fargo has been a First Tee supporter through the Wells Fargo Succeeding Together contest which sponsors a First Tee alum to play in the Wells Fargo Championship Pro-Am alongside a PGA Tour golfer.

This year Wells Fargo is stepping it up and taking its support further. The First Tee Entrepreneurs program, exclusively available to First Tee alumni who attended or graduated from an HBCU, provides mentorship and networking opportunities for participants interested in business or entrepreneurship. Two of the program’s inaugural participants, Lennard Long and Jakari Harris, are getting up to  some impactful work. They sat down with Blavity to share their love of golf, some of their accomplishments and aspirations and how First Tee helped them get there.

Meet Jakari Harris

If you asked Jakari Harris how she built the mental toughness she’d need to graduate from Hampton University and pursue her engineering Ph.D., golf would be high on the list. “I grew up playing almost every sport there is, and I became fond of golf early on. This sport is arguably the hardest there is,” she says, “and I love a challenge.” Loving challenges has surely served her well as she pursues her goal of serving historically Black universities. “My long-term goal after getting my Ph.D. is to bring more research resources to HBCUs,” she says. Whether that’s as the Engineering department Dean, President of a University, or a program coordinator, she’s not sure just yet.

With everything Jakari is working to achieve it could be easy to get overwhelmed, but skills she’s picked up from First Tee have served her well. “The most influential principle from the First Tee [program] that I’ve used is Perseverance,” she says. And that perseverance has played a major part in getting through some of the most difficult challenges she’s come up against.

“My first few years of getting my Ph.D. has been more difficult than I could have imagined, but I continue to push through because of what I learned in the First Tee,” she said.

And the connections Jakari has built within First Tee have turned into more. “I have found a family that not only wants to help me grow as a golfer but as a person too,” she says. She knows how First Tee can impact the lives of others– whether that’s from golf classes taught at First Tee or other opportunities that continuously pour in. “First Tee has truly changed my life for the better,” she says, “and I love what they do for their participants and the community.”

Meet Lennard Long

For Lennard, “making it” means uplifting his community by telling its stories. As a Communications Consultant for Wells Fargo, Lennard is doing just what he set out to do: shape our stories. “My career goals are clear: I want to help businesses and athletes amplify stories that are typically untold, undersold, or marginalized,” he said.” The key to success for communities of color lies in our ability to control our growth.”

It was through the First Tee program that he was introduced to his mentor Juan Austin, the Senior Vice President of Wells Fargo Corporate Philanthropy and Community Relations. “Without the First Tee, I would not be on the career path I am on today,” Long said.

As a participant in First Tee, Lennard was introduced to the S.T.A.R. method— Stop. Think. Anticipate. Respond. He’s taken the method, initially learned to help him through intense situations on the golf course and applied it to successfully navigating through Morehouse and the start of his professional career. “New experiences and challenges are often terrifying and anxiety-inducing,” he says, and this method helps with that.

Lennard has also developed lasting friendships through First Tee and the sport he loves. “I am most proud of the friends I gained from the First Tee,” he says. “As a Black boy, it is hard to find a community in predominantly white spaces. First Tee allowed me to meet people who look like me in a sport that does not.”

He knows that golf, and the First Tee program can be used to transform lives. He’s doing that work by taking what he’s learned from the First Tee program and sharing it with the people he feels need it most. “Professionally, my 12 years in the First Tee inspired me and equipped me with the ability to use golf as a tool for social change rather than just for sport,” he said. While at Morehouse Lennard led a golf program through the department of human services for juvenile offenders in Washington, D.C. 

Lennard knows picking up golf, and the life skills that come with it, will be more difficult for boys who don’t see themselves represented in the sport. “Before joining First Tee, I was often the only child of color that I knew on the golf course, which made me hesitant to learn anything in such an oppressive environment,” he said. He wants to expose other Black boys, especially those who are at risk, to the same opportunities he’s had. “The skills I learned over the years in terms of patience, discipline, perseverance, and self-determination are invaluable, particularly for young people at risk because of circumstances beyond their control.”

Lennard hopes to continue advocating for diversity in the sport of golf and promoting the First Tee program. Because while it’s been nearly ten years since he first signed up for First Tee he says, “…I continue to be amazed at how the lessons I’ve learned continue to give me the tools I need to be successful both on and off the golf course.” 

This editorial is brought to you in collaboration with Wells Fargo.