Inspiring Women and Girls of Color With Golf
April 2, 2015 | Focus on Women
“I’d never played golf, but when I did, I found I loved it. I also saw an opportunity and an inspiration,” says Clemmie Perry, the founder of Women of Color Golf (WOCG), a non-profit based in the Tampa area dedicated to introducing women and girls of color to golf and helping them leverage the game to pursue their life goals. “Our motto is ‘Driving Dreams Down Fairways,’” she says.
Perry came to the game later in life when her brother gave her golf lessons as a Christmas gift. She says she was hooked right away. “I was surprised when I first got a chance to play and saw that I had a knack for the game,” she recalls. “It was exciting, and I was making all these new friends and contacts. It opened a whole new world for me. But I also realized when I was out on the course, I rarely saw women who looked like me out there.”
Perry has had a 20-year career working in technology training for large companies like Lockheed Martin. She was moved to use her skills to bring more women like her to the game and to build a supportive network. “Golf is a game of dedication, but it’s also a community,” she says. “You have to commit yourself to it and practice, practice, practice. When you see yourself making progress, it can be hugely motivating, and you also start to build new relationships through the game.”
Building a Community
“I come from a family of educators and from people who have always tried to give back,” says Perry. Two schools in the Tampa area are named after her family members: one for her grandmother Clemmie Ross James, who taught children of color during the Jim Crow era and fought for equal pay for teachers of color; the other for her mother Doris Ross Reddick, who was also a teacher and was the first African-American woman to head the area school board. Her father, a graduate of Tuskegee University, was among the first African-American athletes to play in the NBA. “With that kind of legacy, there’s a bred-in understanding and passion for how education and sports can make a difference,” she says.
Within a year of picking up the game Perry sat down with friends and family and began building WOCG. The plan is to provide low-cost, quality classes for women and girls of color and to create networking opportunities for those who enjoy hitting the links.
She knew from her business background that proper planning and support were needed to build a successful program, so she sought out partnerships as well as consultants to help lay the groundwork. “I knew we’d need a strategic plan in place to help us meet our goals, and I also knew I couldn’t do it alone.”
Perry formed partnerships with local sports and civic organizations. She also brought on women of color professional golf instructors, including Alice Brown and Paula Pearson Tucker, both LPGA pro instructors, to run golf clinics and serve as role models.
Perry is also using her background in technology to help build the community. “We need a forum to connect with one another here and in different states. So part of this is to build an online support community of women golfers and women golfers of color,” Perry said. “That online community can also help us find funds to grow the organization.”
More than the Game
Perry and her team have also established a junior program, Girls on the Green-Tee, to bring young girls and women to the game. Perry is working in partnership with local schools to reach girls ages 14-22 from disadvantaged backgrounds to participate.
“This is a world many of these girls never even knew existed, let alone thought they could gain access to. We can be an entry way for them to see a different kind of future,” says Perry. “We’re trying to prepare them to enter into a diverse and quickly changing world.”
The girls receive weekly golf lessons as well as establish mentoring relationships and take classes in health and financial literacy. “We want to give them a good foundation. We need to teach them about discipline and, along with that, how to take control of their own lives—and that includes understanding money and savings,” says Perry.
Looking Down the Green
“One thing I learned at Fortune 500 firms is you don’t just think one or two years out, you have to look way down the line,” says Perry. “We tell our girls they have to be thinking about 2030, setting those goals and planning their strategy now for how to get to them.”
In the coming year Perry hopes to expand to more schools around Tampa, and she is reaching out to sororities and churches to help with recruitment. Her long-term goal for Women of Color Golf is to set up programs in states across the Uinted States. With that in mind she is looking at developing bigger partnerships with national institutions and seeking support from a diverse pool of donors. “It’s an ambitious goal, but it’s one I feel my training has prepared me to take on,” she says.
“I never saw myself as someone who would be on a golf course,” she recalls. “But when I got out there, I committed myself to learning the game and bettering myself, and I’ve done that. Now I have a new community. And each time I see a girl step to the tee, I see her world expanding too … and that’s the mission.”