By Deborah M. Jackson, MDiv,
Founder, Executive Director,
Heart to Soul Ministries, Inc.
When I was five years old my dad’s best friend put a tennis racket in my hand. After winning my first tournament at seven, I had no idea that one experience would set me on a path spanning the next thirty years. During that time, there was only one black tennis player breaking ground on the world tour – Arthur Ashe. I remember it as if it were yesterday.
As a ranked junior, there was one black national tennis organization known as the American Tennis Association (ATA); their focus was to promote tennis as a sport for black people, and to cultivate talent for junior tennis players. Me, Zina Garrison, Kathy Foxworth and Lori McNeal were the top-ranking juniors on the girl’s side. Zina was the first black woman to be ranked in the top ten of the world since Althea Gibson who ranked in the top ten in the world in 1952 and 1953, and from 1955 through 1958.
Through the seventies all the way through my collegiate and Virginia Slims qualifying exposure, you could count all the black girls and boys competing in tennis on one hand. There were many contributing factors driving these numbers, but the biggest were money/exposure which worked together, and race not entirely separate from the first two.
With all those barriers, I want to focus today on two things I hope will elevate and inspire you forward: vision and perseverance. We live in a time where it is quite possible that vision is being bamboozled by bright, shiny and immediate gratification. While this may affect each generation, on this subject I am most connected to our Generation Zs.
Recently, I was playing tennis and a black family caught my attention. They were watching someone, and the intensity and dedication of their presence reminded me of the look and body language of my own parents when I was competing. I went over and introduced myself, and they told me they were visiting from Indiana and pointed to their daughter who played #2 for a Historically Black College in Indiana. They explained she was competing in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC). In our one-hour conversation they shared with me something that shook me – that the young black ranked junior tennis players were being offered tennis scholarships to universities across this country and literally turning them down. Scholarships were being rejected not to accept better scholarships or different scholarships, but literally to pursue nothing – not school, or a real strategy toward other aspirations. This caused me great distress and that’s the conversation I hope to elevate and inspire today – vision.
When speaking to black college students and those entering the workforce, the journey of my tennis and corporate career always sparks such surprise and enthusiasm with the crowd. The idea that a tennis career could lead to such a seemingly unrelated path blows minds. How is that possible? It takes vision, patience and perseverance.
You see, tennis produced qualities in me that my next opportunity was looking for. Although it was not in the cards to become a Wimbledon champion, it was in the cards for tennis to create in me championship capacity. This is what’s possible for you. I never imagined a twenty-year tennis career, after winning one tournament at age seven. Had I quit after juniors, I would have missed the next big thing. Tennis set the stage for building relationships all over the world and attracted corporations to pursue me. I became one of eleven black people training surgeons and residents in wound care across the country.
Often, I was the only black woman leading in the medical field alongside white men dominating the industry. Tennis prepared me for that. One yes, set the stage for all that. I am encouraging you today. Life threads; become a visionary. Don’t just dream big, dream wide. For threads to create a blanket they must be woven together. All that is possible in your life starts with saying yes to threads. Choose to invest in yourself by working through your process.
Perhaps the step facing you right now may not feel shiny and sexy but it may be a catalyst in the most explosive change in you yet. That change in you could impact the world forever. Your victories are intertwined in your capacity for vision.
Founder: HC3D(R), Inc.
(Helping Caregivers) Heart to Soul Becoming Whole (Integrating Soul Health & Mental Health)
Instagram/Facebook: @deborahmjackon Office 504 603-3211.