Words of Wisdom


My father, Joe Louis, was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1937 to 1949. At the time, the title was the most prestigious in sports, and his iconic status helped break down color barriers and inspire millions of people around the world. After amassing a stellar record, my father suffered his first professional loss to German Max Schmeling in 1936 after 12 shocking rounds. He could have walked away from that match and never looked back. But he chose a different path. He chose perseverance.

I think of my father often when I hear young people choosing to persevere. Life can often be hard. There are challenges, and there always will be.

Discipline and commitment helped my father prepare for a historic rematch with Schmeling in 1938. The result? A decisive, record-breaking knock out in the first round, leading to my father becoming one of the first African-American sports hero in history. Beyond boxing, my father loved golf, was committed to opening up the game to minorities, and supported other trailblazers during an era in which blacks were barred from PGA tournaments.

He really inspired people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do, and his overwhelming desire to help others also influenced me. These qualities were important factors in my decision to join The First Tee, and they now provide inspiration for an organization so driven to help young people develop the confidence to succeed in life.

Our mission at The First Tee is to provide educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through golf. Through programs that seamlessly teach golf and life skills, young people build a set of values—including perseverance—that become the foundation for making good choices on and off the course. 

We’ve reached 6.5 million young people with programs since 1997, and our goal is to reach 10 million more from 2011 to 2017. It will take perseverance to do this. But today’s young people represent 100% of our future, so we won’t let up.

In closing, I want to share something else I know about my father.  His greatest achievement didn’t happen in a boxing ring in front of thousands and heard around the world by millions more on radio. It happened in private: He paid for the education of his sister, my aunt Vunies, who was a trailblazer herself by becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college when she received a degree from Howard University in Washington D.C.

The high school dropout rate is our “fight.”  It’s our duty, responsibility and obligation to knock it out.

The First Tee Nine Core Values™ are honesty, integrity, respect, responsibility, courtesy, sportsmanship, confidence, judgment and perseverance.