The term, role model has been around for a long time. We hear or use it almost daily. We have it as a permanent part of our lexicon.
It begs the question, how do we become what we want to be? How are we influenced by the people we see or hear about what they do. While there is great merit in hearing about it, I would suggest that seeing someone doing it is a stronger influencer.
Each of us took a different route to the game of tennis. The common denominator is that we love the game. It has allowed us to make new friends and to renew old friendships. Tennis wasn’t popular in my neighborhood as most boys were playing basketball and football. I began playing tennis because it was a different sport and required a different type of athleticism and thinking.
I started playing tennis with my dear friend, William Earl in Winston-Salem NC. We had no formal instruction. Our goal was simply to get the ball over the net. That was a fun time for us.
Over time, I played high school tennis and was able to receive a tennis scholarship to Johnson C. Smith University, an HBCU in Charlotte NC. We played teams like Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, Howard University, Tuskegee University Northwestern University and Purdue University.
Arthur Ashe who I would later meet was the only role model that I had as an African American male tennis player. During those early years, I was able to meet one of his tennis supporters, Dr. Robert Walter Johnson from Lynchburg VA. Dr. Johnson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Opportunities were limited for African Americans playing tennis back in the day. Resources, instruction and the social climate of the day were all factors in our not gaining access to the game of
That was yesteryear and opportunities for African Americans have increased greatly. Coaching and sponsorships have increased dramatically, and the results have been outstanding.
We know there have been tennis champions of color in our recent history and there will be more.
I watched with pride and joy as Coco Gauff won the women’s singles title at this year’s Western and Southern Open. What was also joyous for me was that two African American women, Taylor Townsend and Alycia Parks won the women’s doubles title as well. This comes shortly after Clervie Ngounoue, a young African American girl from Washington DC winning the Jr. Wimbledon girls’ singles title.
Opportunities only come through exposure. The tennis landscape is changing and becoming more inclusive. I have been around tennis for a long time and to see how the sport has evolved is gratifying.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are working within the USTA community. The programs and initiatives are more intentional and will become more sustainable. Partnerships and alliances
with organizations like the ATA and HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) will pay dividends in years to come. Additional partnerships with city recreation centers and public
parks have the potential of identifying players who can gain access to training and resources.
Increasing the diverse pool of talent is a goal for all of us interested in diversity, equity and inclusion. Community tennis organizations and NJTLs (National Junior Tennis League) can
serve as vehicles for this realistic and attainable goal.
As important is the opportunity to increase the number of diverse volunteers within our sport. As our memberships in state associations continue to grow, we must recruit, train and retain tennis ambassadors and officials. Umpires and linespersons will be needed.
Having different voices at the leadership table will enhance the collective voice of the United States Tennis Association. DEI efforts by USTA Southern continue to be recognized nationally and emulated by other sections.
Our signature US Open will begin soon. The diversity of players, coaches and volunteers will be exciting to see. We have come a long way, and the future is bright.
Tennis for life is more than just an expression as it takes us on a journey filled with hope and opportunity.