Harlem, New York — Each year at summer, thousands of people show up in Queens, New York to take in the U.S. Open tennis tournament. Across town in Harlem, African-Americans, young and old pay attention to tennis almost year-round. They already know Harlem has a rich tennis history.
Sam Penceal is the President of the David Dinkins Tennis Club at the Jungle. Dinkins, a former New York City mayor, is a well-known tennis enthusiast who currently serves on the board of the United States Tennis Association which hosts the Open. “This past year, a group of us got together and decided we wanted to improve the tennis playing experience of people here who use this park and we formed the David Dinkins Tennis Club here at The Jungle.”
“The Jungle” is also known as Frederick Johnson Park, named for Frederick Johnson who coached Althea Gibson, the first African-American to win tennis championships at the French & U.S. Opens, and Wimbledon in the late 1950’s. Gibson is regarded as the trailblazer who paved the way for those who came after her from the late Arthur Ashe, to today’s tennis stars like Venus & Serena Williams, and James Blake.
Blake grew up in Connecticut but often played in Harlem as part of the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program. The program takes place not far from “The Jungle” at the Harlem Armory. Dante Brown helped coach Blake and is still coaching aspiring tennis stars, but his focus isn’t on producing more pros, it’s really on helping students get a good education.
“The sport of tennis it affords children the opportunity who go through the sport of tennis to have a chance to receive a college scholarship for playing a non-traditional sport,” Brown says.
That’s exactly the hope of 15-year-old Jaycen Murphy and 17-year-old Steven Wilson who have participated in the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program for years.
Wilson says, “I just think a lot of young black youth are not exposed to programs such as these, they don’t have the opportunity to participate in something like this, and I guess don’t put the work in, and I guess that’s what me and Jaycen are trying to accomplish.”
For Murphy it’s all about the next step and the next step is hopefully playing tennis in college.
He says, “I would like to play tennis in college at the moment that’s my main focus.”
Article text written by Christopher Nelson>