WILMINGTON – More than 100 youths from five local community centers took a field trip to Cape Fear Community College (CFCC) on Tuesday afternoon as part of the One Love Tennis Program’s mission to help celebrate the Port City’s place in tennis history.
The Wilmington based non-profit, founded by tennis icon Lenny Simpson, partnered with CFCC and the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, to share its “Breaking Barriers” exhibit in conjunction with Black History Month.
The showcase mixes a timeline of photos, newspaper accounts, and history into a lively, informative experience that highlights the origins and history of black tennis and American Tennis Association (ATA), while incorporating other historical world and sports events.
The display is free and open to the public through Feb. 16 at Cape Fear Community College’s Union Station, located at the corner of Red Cross and Front Street in downtown Wilmington.
“This is a wonderful honor and opportunity for Cape Fear Community College, the Sea Devil Athletic Department and for our students to share in this fascinating exhibit, especially when some of the events and stories originate in our own community,” said Chris Libert, Assistant Director of Athletics for Student Activities and Community Relations of Cape Fear Community College.
Simpson consulted on the curating of the original exhibit that was displayed at the US Open in New York in 2007 and its updated version displayed there in 2016.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Simpson said. “We are so fortunate to have this exhibit at this time. Not only is it Black History Month, but it is the 100th anniversary of the American Tennis Association (ATA).”
The ATA is the oldest African-American sports organization in the United States. It was formed because people of color were barred from professional tennis competitions not long after the first lawn tennis court was built in America in 1876. In late 1916, black tennis clubs came together in Washington, D.C. to provide organized competitive tennis opportunities for all tennis players, regardless of race.
Wilmington has a proud place in this story and is rich in black tennis history. Althea Gibson, who called Wilmington her home, broke the tennis color barrier when she was allowed to enter the U.S. National Championships at Forest Hills in 1950. Attaining the World No. 1 ranking and capturing Wimbledon and U.S. National titles twice, Gibson personified the struggle for equal opportunity in previously restricted tournaments.
A Wilmington native, Simpson was later introduced to the game because of a chance meeting with Gibson as she trained locally after moving from Harlem, New York.
Since Simpson returned to his native Wilmington four years ago to launch One Love Tennis, the program has grown leaps and bounds by offering instruction in tennis, academics and life skills to area youth, many of them at-risk.
One Love is reaching over 400 children per week at seven area community centers, including YMCA, YWCA, Brigade Boys & Girls Club, Martin Luther King Junior Center and Maides Park.
Paired with the exhibit this month, Cape Fear Community College will also feature two screenings of the acclaimed film, “Althea,” followed by a Q&A with Simpson on Wednesday, Feb. 15 in the CFCC Union Station Theater.