While growing up in Cincinnati there was not a lot of interest in learning or playing tennis especially in the Black community. The local tennis courts were paved with cracked concrete where kids used the courts for baseball practice and for playing tag. Those of us that played the sport were viewed as middle class Black folk. So, there was one set of courts in the community which were not too blemished and, where many Black people did play the sport. As an aside, when we would observe White people infrequently using the court, it was painful, as if they were taking our only sole possession. Our little enclave treated the courts as if we have an exclusive tennis club. In fact, in that setting I learned to play tennis from young Black professionals, men and women, who worked at Proctor & Gamble, Ford and whom were also lawyers and local politicians. They took me under their wings and provided me a breath of fresh air, introducing me to a whole new world which allowed me to escape what was considered normal.
During this phase in life, I was 15 years old. I did not have an image nor a definition of what a Black collective was at that time. However, very soon into my newly formed tennis community, it became quite obvious what the Black collective experience was all about. First, there was our local tennis community where all Black people played and seemed to have caring relationships with one another. I was awestruck by the fact that they took me into their world and helped me to achieve a scholarship to college. Today, I love the sport and have made a living by way of teaching tennis to others, Black and White, young and old.
What was so special about those journeys on the tennis court was that we had a Black experience or what I consider a Black collective. And though our collective was created through the sport of tennis, it was a safe gathering space for like-minded people to gather. Not only was there tennis to be played, we would rest while sitting in circles under a shade tree discussing the latest news and local gossip. Men and women became friends with our younger generation, mentoring us young folk on getting things done and giving us firm advice on going to college. Amongst our fellow tennis players, we had tennis mothers who made sure we were eating properly and drinking enough fluids to get us through the six hour stretch. That was roughly the amount of time one spent on the court. Fathers too became surrogate fathers to those of us that did not have a father though raised by a single mother.
And then, there were the MID-TACS. This was the largest Black organized tennis tournament in the Midwest, played by an all-Black cast of tennis enthusiasts and skilled competitors coming from the Midwest. From our small Cincinnati enclave to regional enclaves arriving from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, the MID-TACS, known as the Midwestern Tennis Association Championships was the event everybody prepared for all year long. This event produced several professional tennis players. However, my primary purpose in attending the MID-TACS was to be with a Black sports collective. The collective was strong, dedicated, and intelligent and, a breath of fresh air as it pertains to Black consciousness. It seemed that all attendees were educated and presented a strong platform for Black tennis for both adults and children. And although participants could play a tournament anywhere in their local towns, it was a given fact that one had to compete in the MID-TACS if only to have that one experience of being with one’s people.
During the four-day experience, I would stay in a hotel with friends my age while adult chaperons and our den mother were always nearby. We were introduced to other youth from multiple cities that had different ideas and values and that listened to different music and dressed in high-fashion. There were rich and poor Black youth in attendance which created an eclectic mix of conversations and attitudes. The richer folk valued their social status while the poorer valued their pride and athletic ability. The trash talking and banter about what city was leading the tournament went on for days. And from my experience, there was always the one girl that I would find to be the most beautiful girl in the world. I would see her once in the summer, then dream again and again of her until the following year.
In terms of research methodology, the amount of intersectionality, including gender, age income and social status was in full light of anybody doing research. Because the tournament was a four day event over the July 4th weekend, participants had opportunities to attend workshops covering topics on academic and sports scholarships, social services, religion, and financial literacy. In these workshops and even at social events, conversations held by males and females, youth and adults would take on current national issues to in-depth sociopolitical discourse.
As an outcome, the qualitative information collected for research would help support the need for more Black collectives, whether a sports collective, Black female collective or a Black male collective, all would make for a genuine and unique journey. The need for our people to move around the country, meeting and organizing with other Black folk serves one in terms of establishing identity and self-worth. In many circumstances, Black children are pigeon-holed to their neighborhoods without a reason or means of ever escaping their everyday traumas. By having an organized Black sports collective such as MID-TACS, whether formed by sports or another social activity, would fuel and uplift our young folks to strive for healthier minds, body’s and spirit.