Renee Fluker has been helping people for most of her adult life in Detroit. Fluker, who raised a son as a single mother in the inner city, first left her mark on the Motor City as a career social worker for the state of Michigan.
Now long retired with her son successfully out of college, Fluker is still dedicated to making her community a better place. But these days, the compassionate Motor City mom is using a different vehicle to develop and motivate young men and women: golf.
Or more specifically, the Midnight Golf Program she started in 2001 prior to retiring from her first ‘full-time’ job. Ironically, when Fluker started her Detroit-based initiative, she wasn’t even a golfer herself and the pricey sport certainly wasn’t the recreation of choice for young black kids in the city.
But Fluker, whose son, Jason Malone, became an avid golfer after attending a local Jesuit school, was inspired by her son’s junior golf journey and successful matriculation into Loyola University Chicago. Two months later, after her son hatched the idea to start Midnight Golf (think golf’s version of the safe-streets initiative, Midnight Basketball), Fluker was helping her community once again in another full-time capacity.
“You know as a kid you tell your parents stuff and they’re like, ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about,’” says Malone, now 40 and working as a local real estate investor and appraiser. “But I remember literally telling my mom, start a golf program, and she was like… huh? And I said yeah, start a golf program and she literally listened to me for once in her life and I’m so happy she did.”
Indeed, and so are the nearly 4,000 Detroit-area kids who not only found a safe haven to learn golf and other “life skills,” according to Malone, but gained lifelong mentors in ‘Ms. Renee’ and numerous golf professionals who volunteer their time during the 30-week program that meets twice a week. Perhaps the most important metric that defines the success of Fluker’s Midnight Golf Program is the fact that every single student has gone on to college – with nearly 90 percent staying on to graduate.
Now, Fluker is trying to take Midnight Golf to the next level as she embarks on a $10 million capital campaign to help build a permanent new 38,000-square-foot golf home for the program before the end of 2023. Fluker says a sponsor donated a building in the city but “we got to gut it out and get it ready” for what we do. In the meantime, the program currently uses space at one of Detroit’s public schools, The School at Marygrove.
Two recent Midnight Golf alumni, Michael Harden and Anthony Ward, are PGA Professionals; Harden recently returned from a teaching stint in Dubai and Ward is an assistant pro at private Orchard Lake (Mich.) Country Club. To be sure, Fluker and her son are thrilled their program is helping grow the game, but the ultimate legacy is growing more college-educated successful future leaders.
The latter part is achieved through college bus trips that Fluker’s Midnight Golf flock annually take to visit schools and, yes, play golf along the way. This year, they had 6 busloads of kids and chaperones through the benefits of various fundraising efforts.
“That’s why we got involved,” Fluker says. “To get them in college and keep them in college so they get a degree and get a job. That’s our goal, really. Teach them how to play golf; give them the soft skills and get them into college and help them graduate from college. … I care about them. I want them to become successful people and to come back and give back.”
In many respects it’s the same recipe for success in raising her son as a single mother while living in the “really rough part of the city,” according to Malone, who sits on the Midnight Golf board and serves as an active mentor and marketing agent. When asked what is most memorable about Midnight Golf and his mother’s ‘second career,’ Malone says it’s simply her “dedication.”
“I’m so grateful for her and everything she’s given me, everything she’s done for this program,” adds Malone, who’s now married with a special needs child. “Her dedication to not only growing the game but more importantly exposing young people to what the game can mean to you. For me, the program kind of brings me full circle. … My mom worked two and three jobs up until my junior year at Loyola. Not because she necessarily had to, but to have additional funds to show me you could have whatever you want if you work hard for it.
“You take that mindset, and you accompany that with a love for a child. You never know what the outcomes will be. I could have easily gone down a completely different path (in life) but out of respect for her and how hard she worked, I stayed on the straight and narrow. I allowed the game of golf to really help me grow and look at life from a different vantage point…the people you meet; the places you get to go. It taught me invaluable lessons I will carry to my dying days.”
At the end of the day, that’s the ultimate score that matters – both in golf and life.