According to Howard Bankhead, the best way to help at-risk kids is with healthy doses of golf, jazz and character.
Part 1 of our interview with Howard Bankhead introduced us to his passion for helping at-risk children become all that they can be, with a unique approach that combines character mentoring, academic tutoring, jazz music and golf.
It’s because of this unorthodox approach to child development that his one-of-a-kind golf program has been awarded annual operating grants from several national organizations including: the PGA, USGA, First Tee and other golf grants.
This free program is open to students ages 6-18 who live in rural and urban Alabama—participants have gone on to earn academic scholarships as well as other recognition and awards.
His program continues to be featured regularly via local and regional media and it’s been featured twice on the Golf Channel and Bankhead himself is a monthly contributor to African American Golfers Digest.
Where do you get the equipment for the kids?
When I first started, when people found out what I was doing they would donate cut-down clubs for the kids, people donated a lot of old wooden clubs as well.
When we got the USGA grant they sent equipment as well, which was the right size for kids—a driver, a few irons, a putter and a bag.
Then they stopped offering the equipment but allowed you to use a portion of the grant towards equipment.
Trying to keep current equipment is important for the kids’ success, but it’s a challenge securing the necessary funding required to maintain access to facilities.
We’ve demonstrated that when we’ve had those resources, we’ve been able to positively impact lives.
Can you talk about the curriculum?
Each kid starts with simple math and the concept of “par” – when you think about it, par is actually “zero” on a number line—positive numbers “bogeys” are plus par, while negative numbers “birdies” are minus par. Even kids six years old understand that concept.
We build and add complexity to that as the kids age, adding in fractions, using grid paper to develop bar charts and graphs of their play over time, degrees of incline of the green, wind speed…etc.
There’s a lot of potential with this. But right now the curriculum is focused on kids in elementary and middle school. The reality is that kids—all kids—in Alabama do poorly in math and reading based on state test results. I’m trying to reinforce the math and reading skills that kids are learning in the classroom with our program here.
Once kids advance out of that middle-school age range, we try to recruit them into a mentorship role and instructors of the younger kids, which helps the older kids develop leadership, volunteering and accountability skills—those are critical skills they’ll use their whole life.
There’s also a PGA book I sometimes use that helps the older kids understand the math calculations that caddies and players have to make while they’re on the course.
How many kids have gone through the program since you started it?
I started it in 2001 and 1,331 kids have been through this program. While not all of them stayed through to age 18, I’ve seen many of them over the years and they still remember coming to the program.
What time of the year do you focus your recruitment of kids into the program?
We’re a year round program and we’re looking for kids that aren’t involved or do not make a sport team at school, we encourage them to consider golf.
Ideally, we’re looking for kids whose grades are “C’s” and “D’s”—you know, average students—and after they go through various aspects of our mentoring and tutoring, their grades improve.
During winter months we focus on things we can do inside such as grip, stance and swing—as well as the important classroom academics and character development discussions. In the spring, summer and fall we get out to various driving ranges, putting greens and golf courses.
Our biggest challenge right now is transportation. I’m trying to secure funding to purchase a van so one of my instructors, me or a volunteer parent can pick the kids up and get them to the golf course.
That’s our biggest need right now.
There seems to be a general decline in the interest of golf in this country—this summer, Dick’s sporting goods stores stopped selling golf gear; Golf Digest magazine has stopped producing a print version of its magazine; while more golf courses are closing than opening for the 8th straight year in a row. What impact does that have on your program?
Golf like so many things in this country is all about money first, but our program is about mission first—and helping to transform those kids’ lives, that’s all I’ll say about that.
However, I must say our program is good for the game of golf. We are helping to create an awareness and interest through the kids and some adults.
Of course that led to more dollars spent on golf.
What’s the one thing you want people to know about this program?
Our program is unique in that we’re focusing on developing the children’s character through appreciation of jazz music and the activity of golf.
While they may seem different they’re really not.
Children can learn important lessons from both, and I’ve seen firsthand the positive enrichment that can occur in the lives of individuals who have very few material goods.
I know for a fact that jazz and golf have changed the lives of hundreds of kids for the better who’ve come through our program.
Our hope is to develop good young people who become good citizens—that’s our goal.
Bankhead’s non-profit organization relies exclusively on grants and donations—and kids don’t have to pay to participate in this life-changing program. If you’d like to help him in his mission to help kids, you can donate at his web site—Golf Life Skills.
Photo Credits: Howard Bankhead