Legacy Youth Tennis and Education is the most racially and socioeconomically diverse tennis center that I’ve ever encountered. Before coming to Legacy, I was always the only black player, or one of two, at the tennis clubs where I trained in Florida. Upon arriving at Legacy for the very first time, I was shocked to see dozens of black and Indian players. There were even black coaches! Since then, I’ve been part of a community that is like no other.
This summer I am interning at Legacy, formerly known as Arthur Ashe Youth Tennis and Education, a non-profit in Pennsylvania. I’ve trained at Legacy for 5 summers and was elated when I found out that they offered a college internship program.
This community continues to impress me with its mission to serve both racially diverse players and players with fewer resources. Legacy not only tends to these players’ athletic prowess but also to their educational development. For example, the organization has recently adopted a program called DEAR (Drop Everything and Read). In this program, players stop playing tennis for 20 minutes of summer camp to read. The goal of Legacy is not only to produce great tennis players but also to create well-rounded citizens.
Legacy goes to great lengths to accomplish this goal: a couple of weeks ago, interns were invited to attend an Up2Us training session for coaches. Up2Us is an organization that strives to equip coaches with the necessary tools for working with children from varying backgrounds. More specifically, Up2Us examines the effects of emotional trauma on young people from under-resourced communities. Because Legacy has neighborhood-based programming in under-resourced cities like Camden and Chester, it is imperative that instructors know how to effectively interact with these children, especially without triggering them. I was completely amazed and impressed that Legacy was taking these measures.
I’ve been wondering whether or not entities, such as Amherst Athletics, have a duty to ensure comfort for all of their athletes in the same way that Legacy does. This has forced me to revisit a topic that I have written about in the past. I wrote on my own experience on a Varsity team and the experiences of those who had chosen to share with me. The intended premise being that, depending on the sport, many student-athletes from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experience discomfort on their Amherst teams due to social differences. After being exposed to programming like Up2Us, I’ve been led to inquire about the type of training that Amherst coaches and captains go through. As of now, captains go through leadership training through Amherst LEADS. Among their programming, LEADS currently trains captains to be leaders to both their teams and to the rest of the student body. Should LEADS offer very specific programming like Up2Us too?
Initially, I was hesitant to agree because of a conversation that I had with one of my current Legacy supervisors/mentors. Like everyone else this summer, he asked me two questions: “What are you planning on studying?” and “How’s tennis?”. I explained to him that I quit tennis. My experience resonated with him as he was one of two black men from an under-resourced neighborhood on his tennis team at a Division 1 school in Connecticut. (It’s important to note that being a person of color is not always equivalent to being low-income. In addition, it’s also important to note that being on financial aid is not always equivalent to being low-income). He mentioned to me that there were many times that he wanted to quit. He didn’t because he loved the sport so much that he was willing to endure the social difficulties of life as a member of the team.
He also expressed that he felt that the responsibility to take the first step of ensuring comfort lies on the minority, or uncomfortable, party in the relationship. While I understand this thinking, I don’t believe that taking that first step is always possible for those who feel uncomfortable. It is only possible when one feels completely secure or comfortable within. In order for a person to feel comfortable with a new situation, one must be placed again and again in that situation. Prior to Amherst, much of our diverse student body hasn’t been in situations where they are surrounded by people who are completely different from them. As a result, it is difficult and unfair to demand that one feel comfortable expressing themselves to people that they are uncomfortable around. In other words, one has to feel comfortable talking about their discomfort. Believing that what is easily conveyed for one is just as easily communicated for another, without any regard for their background, is a form of privilege. Becoming infuriated with someone when they are unable to express their discomfort is placing blame on the victim.
The alternative of “the minority” taking the first step would be “the majority” taking the first step. But people will not change their behavior if they don’t know that it has silencing effects. At the same time, it is nearly impossible for people in “the majority”, to be completely aware of how their speech and actions will affect differing audiences. To ask for that awareness would call for our population to adopt a sense of wariness that has a foundation based on stereotypes and prejudice. That’s not a good idea.
It would be great if Amherst had mandatory cultural competency programs for captains and coaches. It would also be great if Amherst LEADS had more people of color on its Committee. But in the meantime, mentorship between those alumni, upperclassmen athletes, and underclassmen who have also struggled should be emphasized. Too often are people’s experiences invalidated because they must turn to people who have had polar opposite experiences. Unfortunately, the first response to a contrasting experience is to completely deny it. But it’s vital for people to know that they are not alone in their adversities and that there is a way to emerge happily, and without falsity.