WHAT DOES BLACK HISTORY MONTH MEAN TO ME?
"I get inspired because our history is so rich and vast."
MaliVai Washington began playing tennis at the age of five and won his first title at eight years old. He attended the University of Michigan, becoming a two-time All American, and finished his sophomore year ranked as the NCAA #1 tennis player in the nation.
In 1996, he became the first African American man to reach a grand slam singles final since Arthur Ashe when he played in the Wimbledon finals. That same year he created the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation.
USTA Florida posted an excellent article about MaliVai in August of 2020: MaliVai Washington: A Duty to the Past.
Look for more information on the MaliVai Washington Youth Foundation here.
Photo: MaliVai Washington
TCB: Growing up in a tennis family in New York on Long Island, you started playing tennis at age five. How easy or difficult was that for you? Were you aware that they called tennis the "white sport?"
MW: I was born in Glen Cove, NY and my family moved to Michigan when I was two years old. I was around 10 years old when I noticed that my family was oftentimes the only black family at many junior tennis tournaments. At the time it was just a fact. It wasn’t a negative or a positive, it was just the way it was. At such a young age I wasn't thinking too deeply about the racial makeup of tennis tournaments or thinking about social issues and the impact it would have on me or I might have on others. The first time I really began to notice or understand the impact I might be having as one of the few black tennis players playing at a high level, was my sophomore year at the University of Michigan when I became the top ranked college player in the nation. With it came a level of notoriety and attention I had not experienced before along with the constant comparisons to Arthur Ashe. The first time I met Arthur Ashe was in Ann Arbor during my time at the University of Michigan.
TCB: When the Rodney King L.A. Riots happened in 1992 you were 23 and you had won Memphis just a few months earlier. You were ready to play the U.S. Men's Claycourt Championships in Charlotte. How did those riots affect you personally? What do you remember about your life and your state of mind at the time?
MW: As I recall the Rodney King beating, it was the worst case of police brutality I had witnessed up to that time. I was shocked, disgusted and horrified at the same time. My reaction to those events today would be similar in some ways and much different in others when compared to 1991 when I was in my twenties. Today my thoughts would be around, what can I do to protect myself, my son and others from a similar attack happening. The anger from those events would still be present today if repeated but today I would search for solutions.
Photo: AP/Paul Connors
TCB: A lot of racial injustice issues came to the foreground last year. And with it came Black Lives Matter, the awareness and the organization. How do you feel about both today?
MW: BLM began in 2013, years before the events of 2020, but the presence of the BLM movement was felt worldwide in a way that it had not been felt before. What I like about BLM is that the movement is not about oppressing or putting down, or taking away the rights of any one group, but it is about lifting up a group of people to promote fair and equal treatment under the law. We can all acknowledge that far too long that fairness and equal treatment under the law did not exist. Though we are light years ahead of where we were, racial injustices still exist today and its more prevalent than so many people think. So, BLM shines a light on the injustices of today to help facilitate change in law enforcement, politics, education, employment, housing, banking and every other area of society. As Americans we will never all agree to strategy
but I would like to think that we can all agree that all people deserve civil rights, equal rights and their dignity.
TCB: What does Black History Month mean to you today, 46 years after it was first recognized by President Ford and in light of all those 2020 incidents?
MW: When I think of black history, my history, I get inspired because our history is so rich and vast. Black history can never be contained in a single month. I get inspired to know where my ancestors came from and how they struggled and survived with each generation. It’s now my responsibility to carry on their legacy, and that’s a pretty cool feeling.
There are so many contributions to this country that black Americans have made. No doubt, people of all backgrounds and colors have contributed to what America is today, but I would argue that no group of people, except for native Americans, have had their accomplishments systematically and intentionally devalued, erased and ignored for generations like black people. Thankfully over the last few decades, really since the 1970s, there has been a nationwide effort to acknowledge the history and accomplishments of black people and to uplift that history. Just think of how many generations of black contributions have been lost and yet just in my generation, has Black History Month existed to capture, remember and tell that history.
Photo: MaliVai Washington
TCB: You are running an award winning charity, the MaliVai Washington Youth Tennis Foundation. One of your goals defined on the website is for youths to "ensure they have the tools necessary to become productive citizens." How do you define a productive citizen?
MW: A productive citizen is someone who is positively contributing to their local community and society at large. It's someone who is adding value to their community and adding value to the lives of others. I believe that character, education, sports and life skills programs will go a long way towards helping a young person realize their full potential and be productive in their community. The God given potential in all of us is enormous we just need to help each other realize that potential.
TCB: Thank you, MaliVai.
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