USTA Florida is celebrating Black History Month this February by shining the spotlight on members of the vast Florida tennis community. Meet Marc Atkinson, Director of Tennis at the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation, in Jacksonville, Fla. When asked what celebrating this month means to him, Marc responded with it “is extremely important to me because it shows how much my ancestors had to overcome. But black excellence is more important to celebrate. It’s about showing our youth the things we can do.”
What is your name? Marc Atkinson
How old are you? 32 Years old
Birthplace? Jacksonville, Florida
Current city? Jacksonville, Florida
How did you get involved in tennis? I began playing tennis at the age of 12 at the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation. I was the oldest player in the program at that time. I did not take the sport of tennis serious until the age of 16. The sport of tennis kept me out of trouble as child in Jacksonville, FL. I played tennis to be different from all my friends because I never had the desire to be like anyone else.
What would you say is your greatest contribution to the sport? My greatest contribution have been my ability to teach the youth in the community I was raised in. It’s no better feeling than that. Being able to come back to the community that made me the man I am today and teach tennis to youth that wouldn’t be exposed to the sport is the reason. I truly enjoy giving the youth of Jacksonville, FL a different option to make it out of the inner city.
Does your family play tennis? My family does play tennis. My wife and my kids truly enjoy the sport. I enjoy seeing the smiles on their face when they able to hit the ball in and pass me. Greatest feeling in the world. My kids actually want to play in some tennis tournaments soon.
Why is it important to celebrate Black History Month in general, as well as in tennis? It’s important to celebrate Black History month because black youth need to see black excellence. We should not just celebrate one month out of the year. Black history should be celebrated all year long. Especially in tennis. Black youth always see the black football and basketball players, but it’s extremely important that we promote the black tennis players just as much to our youth. So I make sure I connect our youth via Instagram to black tennis players that I follow because this are the things the need to see.
Why is celebrating Black history important to you? Celebrating Black History is extremely important to me, because it show how much my ancestor had to overcome. But black excellence is more important to celebrate. It’s about showing our youth the things we can do.
How has Black history inspired you in tennis, or, your life in general? I knew of Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson, but I did not understand as a child their importance to the game of tennis for blacks. I did not know that many blacks played tennis and coach it as well. Coach Helen Thomas inspired me to play tennis because it could get me into college. Coach Harrell Thomas help me with the life and tennis skills to play college tennis. Coach Devin Reddick spent countless weekends at tournaments with me trying to get better. Coach Carl Goodman, gave me the opportunity to play college tennis as a walk-on a FAMU. My brother Areon Atkinson learned how to play tennis to connect with me more. That meant the world to me because I played basketball to connect with him more.
Being a black tennis teaching professional have gave me the ability to share my knowledge of the game to the kids in my community. I am more connected to the youth because I look like them and grew up in the neighborhood they live in today. That give me the kids trust and attention for me to teach them the game of tennis.
Recently the conversation within many industries has been about racial equality, inclusion, and what’s being done to encourage it. How would you like to see these conversations impact the tennis industry? l love that the conservations are happening but it means nothing without actions. If the actions match the conversation then I am with it 100 percent. I look forward to the USPTA and ATA partnership. With the “USPTA holds a strong belief in making both capital improvements to tennis facilities and establishing Professional Tennis Management (PTM) programs at HBCUs. To attract coaches of color to our industry, HBCUs need to improve their facilities to be on par with other major universities across the country. By creating a PTM program at one or two HBCUs, candidates who seek to become a tennis-teaching professional will better understand the pathway to an exciting career in tennis.” Via USPTA website. This will give the coaches and players an better opportunity to get certified and elevate themselves in the teaching world.
Why is it important to not only support and celebrate other cultures, but be inclusive to all? Everyone you encounter in this thing call life have a different point of view than you. So it’s important to be able to understand all because they can help you see something that you wouldn’t see from your point of view.
Why do you volunteer? I give back because I love to share my knowledge of life and tennis with the youth. Someone volunteered their time when I was younger, so the best thing I can do is to do the same.
What does being a part of the USTA Florida Leadership Academy mean to you? It is important to be a part the USTA Florida leadership academy because I get to be in the room to help make change. To grow the sport of tennis in Florida. Each person in the leadership academy has a unique background that will help grow the sport of tennis in Florida.
If you’re interested in sharing your own story, experience or suggestions with us, please visit www.USTAFlorida.com/Amplify. To learn more about USTA Florida’s Amplify Project: the long-term initiative to engage and amplify Black voices throughout the Florida tennis community, click here.