Brannon Johnson, the rowing champion of West Philadelphia, is behind the only Black-owned and operated rowing club, BLJ Community Rowing, in America. She trains other colored rowers in the art to help them fine-tune their passion and make waves in the mostly white sport.
Johnson founded the club in 2013, and she has taught more than 1,500 people to row since then. Her rowing career began at a summer camp as part of her parents’ attempt to keep their children busy and away from the dangers of growing up in a rough city neighborhood.
“It was a very white space, and I was uncomfortable,” Johnson recounted to WURD. Sharing her love for the sport, she said it “pushes your boundaries and requires lots of mental work and physical anguish.”
The entrepreneur has traveled the world to race and train in the sport. She also had the opportunity to meet a wide range of people, however, she quickly noticed an absence of people who looked like her in the sport.
“So… it’s important to me that I give that option to as many people as possible in the Black and brown communities,” she explained. Johnson is now on a mission to use rowing as a vehicle for social change.
“As the only black owned and operated rowing club in America, we are passionate about providing access to the elite sport of rowing by removing boundaries and creating opportunities,” the club says on its website.
Johnson told 6ABC, “I definitely stumbled into my mission, and I love that it’s not about me. I love that it’s about this community.”
She stated that she had established an environment in which team members could hold each other accountable and challenge each other to accomplish and be better. More than half of her students are Black and Brown people from the Tri-State area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Rowing coaches Asiyah Harrison and Jaden Oates both admitted to noting the absence of Black representation in the sport. Harrison commended Johnson for her great achievements and for demonstrating what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and “a Black woman in such a white male-centered space.”
Johnson received a full scholarship at the University of Texas, won medals and competed in major races such as the Henley Royal Regatta in London. She found fulfillment in rowing by establishing her own club and introducing people to the sport and the opportunities it provides.