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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Highland CC needs dose of fairness, decency

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The more some things change, the more other things remain the same.

A recent incident involving three prominent Black men in the city is something eerily reminiscent of a time years ago when minorities in general and Blacks in particular were treated unjustly. A time when whites were automatically granted rights and privileges simply based on the color of their skin and African-Americans were denied those exact rights and privileges for the very same reason.

Last week, on the morning of Labor Day, Carl Drummer, Lacy Johnson and Sam Odle had enough. After being told they were next in line for the first tee, the three members of Highland Golf and Country Club were outraged when shortly thereafter eight white golfers were allowed to tee off ahead of them. One of the white golfers was chairman of the country club, Mark DeFabis.

I can imagine the anger, frustration and sheer disbelief that Drummer, Johnson and Odle felt as several golf carts carrying the preferentially-treated white players moved forward on the tee. Adding more insult to injury was when the trio questioned the maltreatment, the assistant pro informed them that instead of being next they were “two down” and they needed to “calm down.”

As overt as the incident was on Labor Day, unfair treatment at Highland was a bit common for the men who had repeatedly been treated in a manner that wasn’t comparable to their white counterparts. Over the years, the families of the Black men were also held to certain standards and expectations that didn’t apply to other members. Needless to say, those instances were also unfair and inconsistent with what the general membership was accustomed.

In the year 2010, no one should be disrespected in the manner in which Drummer, Johnson and Odle were treated. Never mind the fact that all three hold highly respected positions in the community – Johnson being a longtime partner with Ice Miller and Drummer also working at the law firm, and with Odle being the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Clarian. Any person who pays the $15,000 membership fee and monthly dues of $450 should be treated with the same respect and dignity as the next person. The color of one’s skin shouldn’t matter, the longevity of one’s membership shouldn’t matter, nor should being chairman of the club’s board matter.

When is this country going to move beyond the elitist, self-entitled, “I’m better than you” persona?

Blacks and other minorities should be extended the same rights that everyone else has, as we deserve a seat at the table, a position at the head of a major company and membership to a country club just as much as whites.

What’s especially disturbing to me regarding the Highland incident is that it’s not the first. As a matter of fact, the club didn’t accept its first Black member until 1992, and that was after a complaint had been filed with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission. However, discrimination at Highland doesn’t just involve race. I know of someone who absolutely refuses to patronize the club because of its biased acts on not only minorities, but also people and employees who are of a lower economic status. The person who I’m referring to is white and has a deep sense of religious and moral obligation to treat people in a fair and ethical manner. Too bad officials at Highland don’t have the same mindset.

The membership resignation of Drummer, Johnson and Odle certainly has an economic effect on the club, as their combined contributions can easily be the salary of an entry-level employee at Highland. Additionally, the three men are highly respected and connected members of this community. Sponsors and patrons of the club should (some probably already have) pull out so they aren’t associated with such bigotry. Years ago, when a very powerful white man in this city learned of discrimination at a country club, not only did he revoke his membership, but he also wrote letters to other chairmen and company heads urging them to do the same. That type of activism is what is needed today.

It’s important to note that Drummer, Johnson and Odle are not suing Highland Country Club, nor are they requesting their equity back. Instead, they are using their mistreatment as a call to action and are asking the club to address the issues it has with minority members by treating everyone fairly. This says a lot about Drummer, Johnson and Odle – as no one can insinuate that it is a money thing because it’s not. It’s a human rights thing.

In addition to treating its minority members fairly, the next step would be for Highland to follow the lead of other entities such as the Skyline Club. The Skyline has a long history of being diverse and it makes no secret about it, so much so that pictures of members of the Board of Governors are prominently displayed at the club. Needless to say, the Skyline’s board includes minorities. The Skyline Club obviously has a different philosophy than Highland and it works to its benefit. If Highland was as wise, it wouldn’t be the center of such controversy.

You can e-mail comments to Shannon Williams at shannonw@indyrecorder.com.

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