Brannon Johnson, the West Philadelphia rowing champion, is the driving force behind America’s only Black-owned and run rowing club, BLJ Community Rowing. She teaches the art to other colored rowers in order to help them fine-tune their passion and make waves in the predominantly white sport.
Johnson launched the group in 2013, and she has since trained over 1500 individuals to row. Her rowing career began at a summer camp as a way for her parents to keep their children busy and away from the risks of growing up in a dangerous 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 raced and trained in the sport all over the world. She also had the opportunity to meet a diverse range of people, but she rapidly noted a lack of people who resembled 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 claimed to have created an environment in which team members could hold each other accountable and push one other to achieve and be better. More over half of her students are Black and Brown folks from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.
Rowing coaches Asiyah Harrison and Jaden Oates have acknowledged a dearth of Black representation in the sport. Harrison praised Johnson’s accomplishments and for exemplifying what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and “a Black woman in such a white male-centered space.”
Johnson attended the University of Texas on a full scholarship, won medals, and competed in big races such as the Henley Royal Regatta in London. She found fulfillment in rowing by forming her own club and introducing others to the sport and the opportunities it offers.