Earlier this year in an effort to take meaningful strides toward increasing diversity and inclusion in Thoroughbred racing, the NTRA began working with the Legacy Equine Academy to create a scholarship through the University of Kentucky that would support students of color who show an interest in a career within the equine industry.
The Legacy Equine Academy, which encourages students in grades 6 – 12 to attend college and pursue equine, agriculture, natural resources, and environmental science degrees, is the brainchild of Ronald Mack. Mack recently shared with the NTRA his inspiration behind the Legacy Equine Academy and some of the long-term hopes he has for the program.
Q: What was the impetus behind your decision to found the Legacy Equine Academy?
A: “As a kid, I literally grew up on the grounds of the old Kentucky Association in the Eastend of Lexington, KY. The street I lived on (Aspendale Drive) was an oval. We were aware that our street was an old horse racing track. However, we had no idea that when we played in the field out back, we were playing on the infield of a historically famous racecourse.
A few years ago, I read a book titled Perfect Timing to my son Stoney. The book is about the life of Isaac Murphy. Many consider Murphy, a Black horseman, the greatest jockey of all time. Inspired by Murphy’s story, I began to research Thoroughbred racing in the late 1800s and early 1900s era. The names, stories and accomplishments of hundreds of Black horsemen in and around Lexington, KY may be lost but there is little doubt of their significance to Thoroughbred racing. Through my research, it was obvious to me that the Thoroughbred industry, and indeed, the wealth and success found today would not exist without the Black horsemen’s hard work and expertise! These Trailblazers overcame adversity and found great success, which quickly vanished from memory in the early 20th century.
Much of that history happened where I played as a kid. I wanted to establish a grand event (The Legacy Ball) to pay homage to those Thoroughbred legends. I also founded The Legacy Equine Academy, Inc. to connect African American and other racially diverse youth to their heritage of the Black horseman.”
Q: A major objective of the Legacy program is to encourage and expose students in grades 6-12 to the equine and agricultural industries. What can the Thoroughbred industry do specifically to help advance that objective?
A: “We encourage the Thoroughbred industry to support our efforts! Both financially and by providing resources and industry related activities, such as apprenticeships, job shadowing, tours, etc., to help potential future industry leaders. We welcome opportunities for our LEA students to discover firsthand how equine and agriculture technology relate to the world around them and discover the excitement of academic excellence, leadership, technical development, and teamwork. In turn, LEA provides a ‘pipeline’ of qualified and certified student leaders for career employment opportunities in the Thoroughbred and Agriculture industries.”
Q: So much of the Thoroughbred industry is rooted in the contributions of the African-American community and people of color. How can the racing community better amplify those voices?
A: “Reaching out and supporting an organization like LEA is an example of how the industry can solidify their commitment of exposing two of the world’s most prominent industries to a new audience and a new generation. As an industry partner, LEA fosters a commitment to young people that promotes the Equine and Agriculture industries and career related opportunities it offers. These industries take a special kind of skill, passion and patience. As a community partner, the racing establishment could begin to set a standard throughout the world by exemplifying the importance of greater professional workforce racial diversity.”
Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work with the students in the Legacy program?
A: “To experience the moment when a young person has a ‘discovery’ of new ideas and opportunities as a result of our program makes it worth the hard work, commitment and dedication to the LEA mission. As I mentioned before, bridging the rich heritage of the Black Horsemen to today’s standards in the industries they help build, has been a mission that, hopefully, will become my ‘Legacy’.”