It was a “A Conversation in Courage” that personified perseverance and determination. The dynamic, educational dialogue took place at a brunch sponsored by The PNC Financial Services Group on the morning of Feb. 25. The financial institution exhibited a heart for diversity and change, and in recognition of African-American history, presented a celebration of dignity. The event, emceed by KDKA’s Harold Hayes, was held at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District.
PNC is instrumental in “creating a more engaged workforce where employees feel valued and respected for who they are and for what they do,” said Marsha Jones, chief diversity officer for the corporate giant. Jones’ informative opening was evident of the pride that exists among PNC employees and the invited guests.
The influential business leader was pleased to announce that the Black History Speaker Series is now in its’ sixth year of providing a forum that showcases the history, struggle and success of African-American leaders throughout the Civil Rights Movement.
One such story of dedication and determination is that of Dr. William J. Powell, told in a warm, moving conversation by his devoted daughter, Renee. Powell is the only African-American to design, build, own and operate a golf course in the world.
His service to his country in World War II still did not open the doors for African-Americans to play on the golf courses built on American soil for which he fought. The passionate golf enthusiast was continually denied the right to walk on the greens because of the black color of his skin. “Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase.” These words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would continually guide the young man with the big, if not, impossible dream. It was a world in which the Powells faced discrimination, denial and discouragement. But one looking at the steps of that long staircase can only see the unwavering faith of a man who refused to let the world dictate his accomplishments or the success of his family. Not one to be deterred because of racism, “Dr. P” set out to provide America with a golf course that was accessible to everyone, regardless of color, religion or creed.
Married to the late Marcella Oliver, the impassioned father of three built a golf course with his own blood, sweat and insurmountable determination. In 2001, the beautiful 18-hole Clearview Golf Club, located in East Canton, Ohio, was named to the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior.
Not only did Bill Powell excel in golf, he excelled in life.
The courage of this humble, gentle man was instilled in the heart of his daughter, Renee. It is impossible for the golf professional to tell her story without telling the story of her father, and she does so with pride, respect and admiration. She spoke of her love for her father and is emphatic when she states that “the world is a better place because of him.”
Walking her audience through a part of history that solidified the essential role of African-Americans in this country, she expressed the embodiment of the character and integrity of her father. Her parents, she stated calmly, “taught me not to become bitter because of diversity and indignities.”
Her success is known throughout the world and one of the gifts she embraced was that of obtaining true, dependable friendships. Throughout her travels, she was continually denied service in restaurants or registration at hotels while traveling the circuit. Although a sign of the times, it was a struggle in which she and her parents had to fight relentlessly for the rights of the young professional. The loving family provided the sound foundation of strength, enabling the young woman to rely on the courage that became a part of her inner being.
“Pride is one thing no one can take away from you,” stated Renee adamantly, recalling the encouragement she received from her grandmother. Those words carried her, not only on the golf courses across this country, but on worldwide circuits that included, among others, Australia, Japan, Africa and the United Kingdom. Ms. Powell, a “pioneer in the sport of golf,” competed on the LPGA Tour for 13 years and is only one of three African-American women to accomplish that feat.
The professional golfer’s illustrious career includes a stint as commentator for ABC and CBS. Along with LPGA professional Murle Breer, she continues to conduct the Renee Powell Golf School at Clearview, determined to make the sport more accessible to minorities.
Recipients of a myriad of awards, accolades, recognitions and honorary degrees, the remarkable lives of Renee Powell and her beloved father, Dr. William Powell, leave an indelible mark, not only in the world of sports, but in the world of humanity. Unfortunately, the man who changed the world in more ways than one, passed away on New Year’s Eve 2009.
However, his courage continues through the strength and heart of his daughter, who carried on a conversation in courage on behalf of her father. The achievements of this distinguished father-daughter team continues to touch the lives of people across the world, far exceeding the barriers of color or culture.
Renee continues to inspire and defeat the odds through her talents and/or philanthropic work within a multitude of organizations that benefit from her service, including Black colleges, United Negro College Fund, Special Olympics, Ronald McDonald House Charities and a many other organizations that benefit because of the heart of this awesome lady.
William Powell knew all too well the prejudices, heartaches and anguish of being Black in America. But he never stopped envisioning a different world. It is because of that pain that Renee knows the discipline of hard work, the determination to reach to the top of the staircase, and the embodiment of courage. Today, the Clearview Golf Course is reflective of the incredible achievements of a family who withstood the obstacles, and because of William Powell and the Powell family, it is “America’s Course.”