Midnight Golf helps Detroit-area African American students reach and succeed in college.
It’s not really about the golf although participants learn golf fundamentals from a PGA instructor. “Golf is a hook,” explains Jamie Jacob, CEO of Ajax Paving and a board member of Midnight Golf, a nonprofit college preparatory program that helps 250 Detroit-area African American students reach and succeed in college each year. “We’re raising their self-esteem and aspirations,” he says.
Jacob says he got involved because of the program’s strong results. Midnight Golf alumni are five times more likely to graduate from college than their peers. “Sixty percent graduate in six years, compared to a much lower rate in other groups,” he adds.
Jacob learned about Midnight Golf through a newspaper article about its annual graduation at a large Detroit church, which he attended. “I was extremely impressed with the program, especially the speakers who are alumni. The energy in the room was phenomenal.”
Jacob followed up with a visit to Midnight Golf’s office and met Renee Fluker, a retired social worker who is its founder and president. He learned that Midnight Golf is a selective program for African American teens from the city and suburbs. For the 2016-17 session, 1,000 seniors from 81 high schools applied. Of these applicants, 732 were interviewed and 265 were accepted. (The 2017-18 class is being finalized now.)
Grades and test scores are not the criteria for acceptance; Midnight Golf accepts successful students and those who need academic help. The program seeks young people who want to go to college and spend time with successful people who serve as volunteer mentors. Many are Midnight Golf alumni, who coach the students twice a week during 30-week sessions held at Marygrove College in Detroit. Golf instruction at a practice facility is part of the program and meals are provided.
Students receive academic help if needed and continuing motivation and practical guidance for the college selection and application process. A Road Trip for Success college tour is a program highlight. Students and adult volunteers travel by bus, visiting multiple campuses over the course of five or six days. Jacob was a volunteer chaperone on one trip. “You get to know the kids and see some great places. Some students are accepted on-site,” he says.
Since Midnight Golf began in 2001, 2,000 of its students have attended 100 colleges throughout the country — both public and private universities including historically black colleges, such as Tuskegee and Howard universities. A scholarship fund is available and assistance with financial aid applications is provided.
After getting personally involved, Jacob asked Fluker what Midnight Golf needed to advance. She wanted to reduce the number of students turned away each year due to lack of capacity. He and his wife responded with a donation to double the size of the program in 2015. In addition, he was the catalyst for Midnight Golf’s first fundraiser, a 16th anniversary celebration held in August at Eastern Market. Fluker adds that the Jacob contribution enabled additional young people to participate in the college tour.
Jamie and Denise Jacob, who live in Franklin, have three adult children and three grandchildren. Jamie has hired several Midnight Golf participants as summer interns at his company, Ajax Paving, and enjoys keeping up with some of the students he has met once they’re in college. And he’s making sure that his friends and associates learn about Midnight Golf and the difference it is making for Detroit-area young people.
Gabe Neistein Joins Midnight Golf
Gabe Neistein, 30, recently joined the Midnight Golf program as its first fund development director. He previously served as alumni relations director for Tamarack Camps, where he tripled alumni engagement and helped manage a portfolio of donors. Neistein is a founding committee member of Pitch for Detroit, which raises funds for Detroit area community development projects. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University and a master’s degree in community development from the University of Detroit Mercy.
Rashad Prendergast, 18, is not your typical teenager. He is nicely dressed in business attire, tie included, with a well-trimmed moustache and goatee. No tattoos or piercings are evident. But most noticeable is the way he presents himself — speaking cordially as if he really is interested in talking to an unknown adult. When asked about himself, Prendergast is comfortable talking about his achievements but doesn’t brag.
He was already a strong student and probably had good people skills when he saw an application for the Midnight Golf program during his junior year at Detroit’s Cass Technical High School. “I was curious about it so I looked it up and applied. It’s very popular at Cass,” Prendergast says.
He was accepted into the program, which “helped me improve myself. We learn so much more — how to manage your money, the college transition, etiquette. You learn that you can do it but you have to give it your best,” he explains.
“I was clueless about golf but it’s a skill that I’ll always appreciate,” he adds.
After winning a prize at the Science and Engineering Fair of Metro Detroit, he was eligible for the 2017 International Science and Engineering Fair. He placed fourth out of a field of 91 in the Earth and Environmental Science category with a project about the impact of road salt on atmospheric concentrations, a topic that interested him because of the preponderance of salt in this area. That qualified him to compete for a summer internship at the prestigious Weizmann Science Institute in Israel.
Prendergast was accepted as one of 80 interns from across the globe for the one-month Weizmann program that included three weeks of research experience.
“My research project involved the study of the role of autoimmune regulators in the DNA damage response. Through observing my mentor and collaborating with my lab partners, I have also learned about the nature of scientific research and curiosity,” he said in his post-report.
The students then spent a week traveling around Israel, visiting the Negev, Masada, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. “I learned so much about the Israeli history and culture. My favorite part of the program was by far the six-day desert excursion where we spent one night under the stars and woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day for a new exciting hike,” Prendergast says. He is now a freshman at the University of Michigan with plans to study engineering.