Column: Prepare Detroit youth for future success

David Gamlin

When Denzell Turner’s journey started a decade ago with the Midnight Golf Program, he only thought of a golf club as something you might use for self-defense.

Flash forward to 2018, and the 27-year-old is on the sideline with the Detroit Lions working for the NFL as a social media content provider. His day job is with IHS Automotive, a global automotive data company. Turner also mixes it up with a group of millennials who openly engage the world through bold and revealing conversations and experiences.

Turner was selected for Midnight Golf in the fall of 2008, and it was his outlet for 30 weeks. He learned about personal finance, public speaking, dining etiquette, golf and dressing for success. The program, started in 2001 by Renee Fluker, provides a nurturing environment where high expectations are fused with focused education and mentoring. The program helps high school seniors’ transition to college and career. Students learn a host of relevant life skills, but they also gain a family of peers and adult mentors who encourage them to reach their potential.

Midnight Golf has served more than 2,200 Detroit youth since its inception and is currently training a full capacity of 260 students at Marygrove College in Detroit. This year’s students were selected from nearly 1,000 one-on-one interviews. They represent a broad cross-section of Detroit-area high schools.

A significant challenge for many students can be the cost of attending college. In response, Midnight Golf encourages students to consider colleges with essential financial and academic support resources. In fact, there are a number of colleges that seek Midnight Golf students because they are equipped with a support system that produces graduates. All Midnight golf students have a corps of mentors and advocates that are committed to their success. Some support financially, some mentor, others are conduits to career opportunities. This level of support has helped Midnight Golf students graduate from college at four times the rate of Detroit students who do not have similar support.

The Midnight Golf Program took on a heightened level of importance for Turner. His mother passed away right before his senior year of high school. Mentors, friends and peers were at his side through the tragedy. Turner became more determined than ever to succeed. He elected to pursue his post-secondary education at the University of Michigan, where he earned a degree in communication studies.

Turner’s first thought was moving back home with his sister to take on a full-time job search. Instead, Midnight Golf connected him to multiple employment opportunities and now he had a new challenge. Which career option would make the best sense?

Turner is now also a mentor in Midnight Golf. Like all Midnight Golf mentors, he will serve nearly 400 hours over the course of the program year. More than 60 adults attend two, three-hour sessions each week and attend the week-long college tour in April. Each session includes a life skill session, a full course dinner, golf lessons from PGA professionals and mentoring sessions.

The program requires a lot of time and money, but is more than worth the effort when you consider the impact of ensuring a young person’s positive destiny. The Midnight Golf Program is a unique yet simple equation of gritty high school students gaining the right information and supported by caring mentors.

Put it all together and you get success through college, career and beyond.

David Gamlin is vice president of the Midnight Golf Program and a native Detroiter with more than 30 years of empowering youth in entrepreneurship.