Sunday, September 6, 2020

My Unforgettable Moments on the Tennis Court

Grand rising! Giving thanks to Saturday mornings on the tennis court in Rainbow City. #thebegining

It’s US Open time so I am leaning into my tennis light as I share this reflection. I was 8 years old running around the neighborhood that rooted me in my Black and Proud identity, Colon, Rainbow City. I learned to play tennis  from one of the best tennis players in Panama, Mr. Loney.

Mr. Loney was this bright, dark skin, Jamaican descendant man. He loved the game. We loved the game because we were on the receiving end of that love. Saturday’s at the Rainbow City’s tennis court was the best. So many of us in that uplifting neighborhood learned from Mr. Loney. This was a family affair. My father, sister and brother also played tennis.

I went on to play in high school. I made the Jr. Sr. High School team my freshman year.  I was coached by one of the women who taught me that sports teaches you life’s lessons, Coach Rankin. I then had Mrs. Shank. (In the picture) I was part of a team with some of the best female athletes at CHS. Vannia Evans and Traci Kramer, may she Rest In Peace, are two women who pushed me to be a better all around athlete.

Tennis then turned into something different when I came to the US. When I made the tennis team in college, the racism I faced messed with my game. I was not prepared to defend myself as a tennis player and a racially profiled black woman on the court.

After my freshman year, I went home that summer to clear my mind and reconnect with my style. The style that made me fall in love with the game. Mr. Loney was still around. That summer, before I went back to school I spent hours on the court, playing with folks I grew up with in Rainbow City. It was hard work, fun and love all wrapped up on this tennis court full of beautiful black faces.

I went back sophomore year and had my best season for many reasons. One reason, Mr. Loney’s trust in me and my game. He knew I would find my way back. Second, I now knew  that being a black immigrant woman in this country will be a daily struggle and it shows its ugly head on the tennis court.

On the tennis court you are there on your own pushing through every shot. So yes, these are some crazy times and yes, I will keep pushing through, leaning into Mr. Loney’s light reminding me, you got this.

And yes, every black woman on a tennis court faces that duality every time she steps on that court. The expectations to be a good tennis player and all the negative stereotypes placed on the black woman that show up. This is why the incident where Serena fought hard when the umpire called her a liar, I completely understood her anger. This is why Naomi wearing her mask with Breonna Taylor’s name makes absolutely sense. #SayHerName And let’s not forget the policing of our bodies. The fight to be who you want to be, to be seen in your human light, extends onto the tennis court.

So today, Hats off to all, from Althea Gibson, to Vannia Evans, to Serena, to Naomi who show up, Black and Proud. Way to go Queens! #TennisPlayerForLife #ColonGirl #C3 #Love #light #UnapologeticallyBlack

in light and peace,
Yvette Lepolata 

In the struggle for justice is the hope,
Loretta J. Williams

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