To give you a brief history on the Harlem Junior Tennis Program and, as my colleague Mr. Benedetto pointed out, we were one of the 999 points of light. And being one of those points of light, the press, a lot of media, viewed it as somewhat of a joke. We didn’t get a lot of notoriety that the points of light should have gotten, not because of the organization but because of what our organization and many others—all the one thousand points of light—did for people, the community, and a service to the nation as a whole. And it was, and still to this day is, really sad that that notoriety has not been brought to the forefront.
But a little bit of history on our program, being one of the 999 points of light: The program has been in existence for like thirty years. It’s not just a tennis program. In its concept, in its inception, it was to provide free tennis for children—not just African-American children, but children as a whole—giving them an avenue just for recreation and to learn a sport that was thought to be a privileged sport. Over the years, what happened was that the program’s mission statement changed and the program’s ideal changed as a whole. It went from being just a recreational sport, introducing it to children free of charge, to a sport that included an education component, included an avenue for children to go to college, included leadership training, included life skills. So what happened was that the program just evolved over the thirty years, and what really took on a whole new identity was the end result of the program. The end result of the program was the children, what changes came over them; how the program just turned children around. Classic examples meaning, the program would have children from the inner cities and children from the suburbs come together, meet, and they would spend nights either in the suburbs, the inner-city children, or the children from the suburbs would spend nights with children in the city. And things that they couldn’t do because they couldn’t come to the city, once they got there, they then did those things. Children from the inner cities, when they got to the suburbs, the things that they couldn’t do, they were able to do, like ride bicycles all over the place.
But one very, very important factor that helped a lot of inner-city children was that children in the suburbs were already inbred, from the start, “What college are you going to? What are you going to do after college? What are you looking to do?” A lot of children in the inner city never give that any thought. It’s a day-to-day process for them; they’re just living for day to day. What happens is rivalries, companionships, a lot of things develop, and those friends asked them, “What college are you thinking about? Where are you going?” That thought never entered their mind, but now they have a focus. So they share and blend ideas. The development of that just enhanced a child’s growth in the inner city, plus also, it enhances the growth of a child in the suburbs.