BLJ Community Rowing is the only black-owned and operated rowing club in the U.S., yet most people have never heard of it. Their mission is simple; provide access to the elite sport of rowing by removing boundaries in a sport that has historically lacked diversity.
BLJ Community Rowing’s inception stemmed from the need to diversify the sport of rowing. Having trained and competed nationally and internationally, founder Brannon Johnson realized the glaring lack of diversity and athletes of color in the sport and started BLJ Community Rowing in her hometown of Philadelphia. Since the outset of the club in 2013, BLJ Community Rowing has offered free learn-to-row clinics and rowing courses through Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT), a community-based non-profit whose goal is to strengthen and enrich the diverse community of Northwest Philadelphia, area schools, and the American Red Cross.
Known as the “Boathouse Without Walls”, the BLJ program has since expanded to become one of the most diverse organizations on the Schuylkill and the only black-owned and operated rowing organization in the country. BLJ Community Rowing has taught and coached 200+ classes to over 1,500 Philadelphia area residents, ranging in age from 12 to 65. What sets BLJ apart is the symbiotic relationship within the organization; BLJ coaches are teaching masters how to row, while those same masters sponsor BLJ coaches training to compete at the national level. The interns mentor the youth, then ultimately become BLJ coaches creating a synergy that drives this community.
"...one of the most diverse organizations on the Schuylkill and the only black-owned and operated rowing organization in the .US.”
When you remove boundaries and provide opportunities you create options for the community; and when the community has options its members can make better choices. So, what began as a learn-to-row program quickly morphed into a thriving community for rowers of color.
About BLJ’s Founder
Founder Brannon Johnson built an extensive resume within rowing and coaching since she began her journey at the Fairmount Park Community Rowing program when she was just 15. As her love for the sport increased, so did her speed and strength. She trained at Boston University’s elite summer rowing program for two years then placed in the Philadelphia City Championships and Stotesbury Regatta shortly thereafter. Her drive and perseverance led to a full athletic scholarship to the University of Texas for rowing. In 2003, Brannon competed at the Henley Royal Regatta on Thames River in England as a Single Sculler.
During the same year as her race at the Henley Royal Regatta, she began teaching rowing classes through Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT) and hosting free learn-to-row clinics.
BLJ Today and Beyond
BLJ Community now teaches numerous rowing courses during the spring, summer, and fall for MALT, Chester County Night School, and Main Line School Night. More importantly, they still host free learn to row clinics that have become wonderful meccas of learning. They teach people about swim lessons in partnership with Diversity and Aquatics and American Red Cross. They teach people how to row, educate parents on the opportunities that rowing can provide for their youth and share their stories. Rowing can be a vehicle to a better life and because all the staff/coaches at BLJ are African Americans who have rowed competitively, they are living examples for the youth.
"Rowing can be a vehicle to a better life and because all the staff/coaches at BLJ are African Americans who have rowed competitively, they are living examples for the youth."
Partnership with Boathouse Sports
BLJ Community Rowing has partnered with Boathouse Sports to spread their message of fostering an inclusive rowing environment that is accepting of all people of color and advance their goal of creating diversity and inclusion within the sport of rowing.
To help support this effort, Boathouse is donating 30% of BLJ’s Team Store proceeds to help fund their free Learn-to-Row and Intern Programs.
We hope you will join us as we work towards the common goal of diversifying the sport of rowing.