By Clark Higgs, USTA Florida volunteer president

Perhaps I should start with a disclaimer of sorts. The views and opinions expressed in this message are mine, period. I expect that many of them, but not all, are shared generally by USTA Florida, its staff/team members and many of our volunteers, providers and member/players throughout the Section. However, I would not expect everyone to agree with and accept my views for themselves. If you don’t like my views, feel free to let me know, but realize that they are mine, personally, and may not fully represent those of the Florida Section.

I am heartbroken and sickened to see what has happened to our country over the past several months. The senseless and tragic deaths of many minorities in areas all over the country, the pointless destruction of so many businesses large and small, personal property, injury to well-intentioned protesters and innocent citizens. The violence and destruction make no sense, and they certainly do not contribute to resolving this long-standing problem that still haunts us as a nation. Just a couple of months ago I wrote about numerous tragic events that had occurred over my lifetime. Today, we are witnessing what may prove to be the greatest impetus to change our society and culture has seen since the period from 1968-1971. While there are many tangential issues revolving around current events, they are not nearly as different as they were just over 50 years ago. At that time we had an unpopular war that could not be won, an economic crisis that was exacerbated by changes in the distribution and pricing of petroleum products, and general social unrest among our youth; all in addition to the issues of discrimination and unequal/unfair treatment of African-American citizens all over the country. Today, we have a groundswell of support by a large and diverse segment of our population related to the manner in which we treat the African American population in particular, but other minority groups as well. The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting several-month lockdown have exacerbated this problem as the public has finally gotten out of their homes and started to re-socialize. But it is clearly these recent deaths that have shocked the nation and galvanized so many people to demand change.

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. In the Preamble, it states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Very noble ideals to which we should continue to aspire today. We have historically tended to pull them out and trumpet them each year around Independence Day and at various other times when deemed appropriate. Unfortunately, and throughout our complete 244-year history, we cannot honestly say that we have lived up to the ideal that all men are created equal, and not even from the date of signing.

It is disturbing to me to hear that so many of my African-American friends, associates and colleagues are still fearful when they walk around their own neighborhoods, get in the car to go somewhere, go to concerts, shows or are out walking in around large public gatherings. 

It is time for us, as a country, to start living up to and practicing the ideal that All Men Are Created Equal. Every day, for everyone. It is time to put this history of not living up to this ideal behind us, for good. It is time to stop patting ourselves on the back for little bitty steps of progress in equality and social justice while we take four steps backward at the expense of the lives of our minority citizens. It is time to stop making excuses for having not made much more significant progress on the issue of equality for all in this country. It is time to stop beginning every responsive statement with “but,” as if to say that there is some justifiable reason to counter the actions that cause the pain, or for not making substantive progress. It is time to stop the hatred that seems to prevail among so many of us. It is time to accept that we are all different in many ways, to embrace those differences and use them to our collective advantage. It is time to live our own lives, and let everyone else live their own lives too, however they choose to do so. It is time to start listening to other voices, to hear their opinions and to amplify those voices. It is time to let everyone be a part of this conversation. We can have opposing views on issues without every disagreement turning into an angry argument or war of words that rips friendships and otherwise positive relationships apart. It is time.

While we may not be able to have a substantial influence in the national conversation on the topic of equality for all and social justice, we should, we must, be proactive and positive influencers within the Florida tennis community. Tennis is the one thing that we have in common with other players, whether they are strangers, friends, teammates, or opponents with whom we can barely stand to be on a court. But it is a passion that we all share, we should all want to cultivate that passion, to invite more people to play the game, to create more opportunities for each of us to have other people to play with and against. We should all, at an absolute minimum, be able to treat everyone we play with and against with respect and dignity regardless of the color of their skin, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability or the way they wear their hair or clothes. We are all part of the tennis community and we should all be able to get along while we are playing tennis together. And after we are done playing as well. Tennis should unite each of us. If we cannot do this, there would seem to be little hope that we can, as a country or a society, change the lengthy course of history. It is time for us to do so within our tennis community and all over the country.  I will be trying to do everything I can to ensure that we accomplish this objective in the Florida tennis community and around the rest of the country. I hope to see each of you doing the same when “I see you on the courts.”