By Jasmin Cunningham and Andrew J. Masterson
We as an organization have spent the last several days taking in the news and unfolding events happening around the country. It is truly disturbing and heartbreaking. Although disheartened, we are proud to work for an organization that is actively discussing how we can play a role in changing social injustices and better support our youth.
First Tee was created two decades ago to give kids access to golf who may have never had an interest or ability, and provide a space that makes them feel comfortable and accepted within their surroundings. In the process, they began learning life skills and building their inner-strength, confidence and resilience.
The words of our CEO, Greg McLaughlin, were a reminder of this. – “Our character is a compass, and it is the source of our words, thoughts and actions. Strong character stands against injustice.”
We are working on becoming more encouraging and uplifting during this time, but first and foremost, the best thing we can do right now is listen.
When societal change is needed, it is best to look to the stewards of our future, our participants and alumni. These young people are aware of the injustices and inequalities within our society. They refuse to turn a blind eye. They use their voices, platforms, lived experiences and actions to facilitate change, stand with one another and loudly and unapologetically condemn acts of racism and social injustice in our nation.
We challenged our youth to provide one word that describes their character and guiding light during this time of darkness. By listening to their perspective, we can all learn to examine our own conscience and open our minds and hearts to those around us.
Rayshon J. Payton | Alumnus, First Tee – Metropolitan Oklahoma City
Legislative Director at U.S. House of Representatives – Kendra Horn
“We are at a pivotal point in our nation where difficult and uncomfortable conversations regarding the experiences of so many of our fellow Americans is the only pathway forward. I am confident as we work to form a more perfect union we will emerge stronger, more unified than ever, with our compass needle pointed solidly towards compassion, equality and justice for those hurting so much. Racism and hate have no place in our society.”
Najae Butler | Alumna, First Tee – Metro Atlanta
Junior at Fairleigh Dickinson University
“Perseverance has always been an important part of my character and it still is today. As an African American female, I’ve come across numerous issues within my life based upon my race and gender, but I did not let that stop me from achieving my goals of becoming a Division I athlete and starting my own photography business. Having those instances in my life has helped me during this challenging time because it taught me to keep fighting and believing in what’s important to me. I have joined a leadership group at my university, Fairleigh Dickinson University, to enlighten the community of what’s occurring and proposing solutions. Adversity will occur for many people, but it’s how you respond that’s important. Do not be discouraged because you may have failed at something or it has not gone the way you planned, but be motivated and have the drive to accomplish what you want; and that goes for anything in life.”
Shahbaz Hashmi | Alumnus, First Tee – Greater San Antonio
Sophomore at the University of Indiana
“There are times where humanity finds itself at a crossroads. An ultimatum. A fork in the road. As a nation, we have inched closer and closer to a tipping point for generations, and our collective pain over the past few days has seemingly brought us to that threshold. As young people, and as leaders, we have a unique opportunity to seize this moment and to be agents of change – change that will transcend generations.
Make your presence felt in this world in order to be the change you wish to see. Seek solace in your presence. Maintain presence of mind, but more importantly, maintain presence of heart. Live your life through a lens of respect and integrity. Be what you want this world to be, and the world will follow suit.”
Ben Spitz | Alumnus, First Tee – Western New York
Sophomore at California University of Pennsylvania
“The unrest across our nation has more than anything reminded me of the importance of family. I grew up with a black sister and a paralyzed father, but it took me years to realize that people saw our family as different. It never mattered to me and my siblings whether my dad was able-bodied or not; we loved him without batting an eye. The same went for my adopted sister. Family represents love, respect and support regardless of our skin color or what we look like. One of us gets hurt and we all have their back. As a white male, I can’t pretend to understand what black Americans go through on a daily basis, but I do stand with you. As family. Today, our family needs us all more than ever.”
Savannah Mansueti | Alumna, First Tee – Palm Beaches
Freshman at the University of Florida
“Social injustice and systemic racism have been issues in America since the beginning. People of color have been subjected to this treatment for too long, and change is long overdue. I chose “resilient” as my word to not only describe me but also the brave protestors who are fighting for equality. To me, giving up is not an option. And for a lot of these protestors, giving up means losing their life or complying with the never-ending cycle of violence. The powerful videos and photos coming out of the protests show the resilience of the black community. Our generation is the generation of change. If you would like to help, Donate! Sign Petitions! Educate Yourselves! Educate Others! WE WILL BE THE GENERATIONAL RESET!”
Mombo Ngu | Alumna, First Tee – North Florida
Freshman at the University of Florida
“I strongly believe that I must be resilient during times like this in our country. Being resilient does not mean I am ignorant or indiﬀerent to the news going on. Resilient means I am able to keep standing and pushing forward no matter the situation. I will do whatever I can, to be an impact wherever I can, even when I am looked down by others and face opposition. Lives have been lost and my heart breaks every time, especially for the families that have lost a son, daughter, father or mother. No matter what stands before me, my need to be resilient reminds me that I must push for change and have my voice heard. I can breathe and I am alive.”
Logan Lurie | Alumna, First Tee – Howard County
Rising freshman at the University of Maryland
“One word that I would use to describe my character and has also guided me during this time of darkness is empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the experiences and feelings of another person without having experienced them in your own life. I know I will never be able to understand what it feels like to be judged by the color of my skin, but I can help make a difference by listening to and truly hearing the experiences of others who fight racism every day of their lives.
Through these tough times, I have been reminded of the importance of reaching out to my friends who are hurting to simply hear their feelings as well as educating myself about the racial inequalities that are present in our country. It can be difficult to know the differences that we as individuals can make in regards to such a widespread issue, but being empathetic towards others is the best way to do my part. I believe that if every person is kinder and more empathetic to those around them, the world will become a better place.”
Alexa Vela | First Tee – Greater Houston
Rising Junior at Pearland High School
“Be the change you wish to see in the world,’ a phrase held by countless individuals who have had a positive impact on the world around us and more than ever contains a great amount of relevance. Even in such trying times, I have clung onto the power of hope as a result of the knowledge that many, including myself, are willing to dedicate themselves to the well-being of others. In addition to this, I recognize how fortunate I have been able to grow up within an organization as First Tee that is founded upon the significance of celebrating diversity. As a result, throughout my life I have been given the opportunity to learn as well as lead alongside many people from varying backgrounds whether racial, religious or cultural in which many have been influential in shaping who I am. This has encouraged me to advocate for the justice of my African American, Latino, Asian as well as many more of my peers through the ways in which I choose to live and use my voice within my school, community and chapter.
During recent events, I have seen the ways in which many young people throughout the country are beginning to do the same by becoming accepting of others as well as promoting the exchange of thoughts, beliefs and opinions regardless of social, economic or political status. This allowed me to be hopeful for the future leaders within my school, community as well as the nation who are choosing to be the change in a time where it is easy to feel helpless. All of which have led me to a single conclusion: We must choose to love and not hate for what is, but hope for what could be.”