Game Changers Reflect on First-ever Learning and Empowerment Academy in Philadelphia

Categories: Blog, Character Education, Events

This July, we held our first-ever Game Changers Academy Honoring Joe Louis Barrow, Jr. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The five-day learning and empowerment event brought together 48 teens from across the country to focus on critical conversations around issues of identity, racism, equity and empathy.

Our participants had the opportunity to engage in interactive workshops facilitated by RISE, a national nonprofit and leader in the sports community championing social justice and working to improve race relations. Paired with introspective activities and reflections led by our nationally-trained First Tee coaches, the event served as a safe and constructive platform for our teens to build connections with other participants and hear different perspectives from their peers.

We recently caught up with two outstanding participants to see what this year’s Game Changers Academy meant to them.

Libby Dunn, First Tee — Connecticut

Overall, the Game Changers Academy was fun and a great learning opportunity. The speaker, Dr. Stephany Coakley from Temple University provided me with a better understanding and appreciation for how we (young adults) can help improve, empower and champion for improved race relations and help eliminate racial discrimination.

The RISE organization had different activities that brought us together and created a deeper awareness for what some groups of people experience in their daily lives. Oftentimes, we hear about these experiences, but to have a “hands-on” experience, although just temporary due to the activity, allowed an appreciation for what I may have taken for granted.

The Privilege Walk resonated with me the most. This activity was something that was really eye-opening, and it made me feel grateful for what I do have. The activity also taught me that oftentimes judgements can be made of people without knowing their story; assuming you know something or someone is never a good idea. There is always an opportunity to learn and grow from each experience, the real lesson is doing something with what you’ve learned.

In my school district, I was invited to be part of a district wide Social Justice and Equity Committee organized by the Assistant Superintendent, a school wide Diversity Committee organized by an Assistant Principal and I am also part of the high school Unity Club which promotes positive relationships among the community. When I returned home, I reached out to those committee organizers. I asked to meet with them at their convenience to explain my experiences from the Game Changers Academy. I am hoping that after sharing my experiences, my district can find a way to implement some of the activities into my district’s enrichment opportunities.

I think this event was very important for teens to attend because we learned so many things that are essential for people to know in order to be a good person. There is so much talk and media surrounding the terms of diversity, equality and equity. Sometimes, for teens especially, the words lose their meaning after being used so often or the intent of those words become misused. Being able to participate in the activities organized by RISE, hearing from Dr. Coakley and listening to my peers from across the country, allowed me to open my mind more, understand more clearly and excite me to share my experiences to bring positive change to my community. Also, by listening to others’ experiences, we learned about what needs to be changed for the better. If you are stuck in your own bubble, you do not get a chance to see what struggles others may endure or what strengths they have to share in the community.

Ansh Rekhi, First Tee — Greater Washington, D.C.

The Game Changers Academy was one like no other. We started each day with RISE workshops that empowered us on social issues occurring in the word, such as racism, privileges, understanding our identity, etc. From there, we would practice golf skills through various workshops before our nine-hole round of golf that afternoon. All the activities were amazing and taught us, as participants, so many new things. It also allowed us to build new friendships with other participants, coaches, and chaperones throughout the nation. It was truly incredible.

The RISE Privilege Walk was the most eye-opening experience of the entire academy. The Privilege walk showed how people have different privileges in America based on their race, sexual orientation, disability, etc. Being the victim of a hate crime, I spoke about the fact that Sikhs are the targets of mistaken identity, especially after the hate crime that took place on 9/11. Discussing personal experiences, I shared my cousin’s hate crime story, as well as the shooting in the Gurudawara (Sikh temple) in Wisconsin, along with the Swastika vandalized on our garage door. This speech left participants and coaches in tears, showing them that different people have faced extremely serious and scarring situations in their past. By the end of the presentation, I spoke about how grateful I was to have a loving community of players into the academy who would become my lifelong friends, and that because I have this privilege, I can feel belonged, regardless of my race and religion.

The event was important for teens to attend because it opens their eyes and shows them how important it is to learn about golf as well as social issues. Being granted the Rise Up Game Changers Award, I can say that the Academy creates a new sense of understanding in teens and allows them to not only see but visualize social issues and their plausible solutions in order to become game changers in their communities.

I shared an extremely personal experience during the privilege walk and showed how the Privilege walk affected me personally. It was extremely emotional and scarring to re-live those memories, but it was also important to show the participants at the academy that different people have different privileges. No one person’s privilege will ever be the same because everyone is different.

We can’t wait to see what these amazing teens accomplish in the future!

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