When I was a kid, my favorite sport was tennis.
I couldn’t wait for the summer months to attend tennis clinics. Unfortunately, due to ignorance, I did not look forward to the racial jeers from my white teammates.
“Welcome back, brownie,” or “You don’t need sunscreen, your skin is already burnt.” These were just a couple of the remarks that I endured on a daily basis. Instead of being confrontational, I used my excitement for the game to fuel my practices.
Had it not been for a few familiar faces on the television screen at home, like the great Arthur Ashe and Zina Garrison, I would’ve buried my passion with a feeling of “I don’t belong here.”
Today’s African-American kids, especially girls, have it a little easier. The tennis circuit now consists of more top players in which kids can see a reflection of themselves: Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Taylor Townsend. Blacks also now sit in the broadcast booth, which for a journalist like myself, is inspiring since I hope to sit in the booth myself one day.
As a former tennis instructor for the L.A. Junior Chamber of Commerce, Safe Passage Tennis program, I had the opportunity to help minority kids realize their hidden talent. My hope is that professional black players will continue to reach out to black youth and form community clinics at low costs so that low-income families can participate.
Tennis legend Althea Gibson who was the first black – and also a woman – to win a Grand Slam title at the U.S. National Championships in 1957, should serve as inspiration for everyone, not just blacks and not just women. Her presence changed the way we see the game forever.