WHAT DOES BLACK HISTORY MONTH MEAN TO ME?
"My mother talked often about her immense hope for societal change based upon Dr. King’s work ."
Shelia Curry is the Executive Director of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame (BTHOF), a nonprofit organization founded for the preservation and celebration of people who have been historically ignored because of their race. Shelia is the organization’s administrative authority representing all areas, including the Annual Induction Ceremony that inducts the nominated class of each year. She also publishes a monthly BTHOF newsletter covering a wide variety of related information.
In 2007 Shelia became and remains owner and publisher of the website Black Tennis Pros (www.blacktennispros.com) to provide a positive and constant resource dedicated to the careers of Black tennis players. Black Tennis Pros was established to cover tennis tournaments, interview players, and maintain related information on the sport.
Photo: Shelia Curry
Shelia is a native of Los Angeles, California where she worked with the City of Los Angeles before relocating to Midlothian, Virginia. Since living in Virginia, she has worked with the City of Richmond, attended HBCU Virginia Union University with a Business Administration Major, and served 29 years as First Lady of two Baptist churches pastored by her husband.
TCB: In last October's interview you mentioned how you got into tennis and how you started to love it. What was it like getting into the "white sport" as a Black girl in Los Angeles?
SC: Actually, it was quite fun - initially. I went to a predominately white high school that had fantastic educational programs in so many different aspects. And while predominately white, the student population of the school also consisted of Black, Samoan, Black Asian, Japanese, and Chinese students. It was like a multicultural introduction in addition to a high school education. Given where I grew up in an unincorporated area of Los Angeles County that was close to the Carson/Torrance/Gardena area, this was the norm. Hence, starting out in my physical education course with tennis as my sports choice, the other student participants racially varied significantly, with Black students being the least in numbers. I share that to say that even though I was well aware of tennis being a “white sport,” that truth didn’t affect me at my high school. It was post-high school and going to different parks and tennis facilities with my multicultured friends that began to bring the reality to a much greater truth of what I watched and heard on television. Some places welcomed whoever came to their facility, and at other places, you were glared down until you left. Since I was definitely not on a path to become a tennis professional, and these random days were just for fun, my friends and I chalked up where we knew we were welcome, and where we wouldn’t go to waste time dealing with racial issues.
TCB: Growing up in Los Angeles, you must have heard of the Watts riots and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, all before you were born. Was that a point of discussion in your home? Had you learned about the Doctor's life and work?
SC: It is extremely difficult to grow up in California overall without being aware of the Watts riots. My family did not live close to the Watts area, but my father and his five brothers spoke often about different places that they previously went to in that neighborhood where some of their friends worked or lived. I’ve read more than what was ever discussed in front of the children in my family. My father was a wonderful man, yet very restrictive of any conversation that he deemed adult. On the other hand, of course, Dr. King and his work was always openly respected with teaching conversations occurring - especially for the children. My mother talked often about her immense hope for societal change based upon Dr. King’s work and her tremendous sadness and concern that America’s racist behavior would not change after the assassination of Dr. King.
Black Tennis Hall of Fame Board and Administration L-R Board Member D.A. Abrams, Founder Dr. Dale G. Caldwell, President Bob Davis, Hall of Famer Benny Sims, Jr., Board Member Ann Koger, Historian Arthur Carrington, Executive Director Shelia Curry, Board Member Gary Cogar. (PHOTO CREDIT: Gary Battle)
TCB: Same question during the Rodney King riots. What went through your mind at the time?
SC: Inhumanity. As I watched the inhumane actions of Los Angeles Police Officers repeatedly beating Rodney King and the instant replay over, and over, and over again on the news, I was severely affected by the current day's continued inhumanity in the treatment of Black people. While my grandparents, in particular, had taught me a lot about the history of our people in America, to now think that forward movement had somewhat occurred, then be figuratively slapped back to reality, it was rough and leery to live within. Controlling anger, and revenge perspectives, called for continuous prayer and abiding by the word of God.
TCB: If you had the chance of meeting Althea Gibson today, what would you ask her?
SC: Althea Gibson’s lifetime of accomplishments and forward movement will continue to provide encouragement, cultural dignity, power of Black women, and so much more into the future. No questions.
TCB: What do Black History Month and the Black Lives Matter movement mean to you in regards to your sociopolitical views and to your life as a tennis leader?
SC: Definitely individual, yet consistent considerations here. For me, the name “Black History Month” doesn’t relate to the Black history that I received at home. My grandparent’s teachings primarily focused on the initiations and ambitions of Carter G. Woodson, which primarily sought two things, 1.) an annual celebratory week of our heritage; and 2.) greater overall societal understanding by Americans in general of Black people; which obviously never happened. I can never step away from the grandeur of Black History ‘All of The Time.’ It is part of my greatest love of being the Executive Director of Black Tennis Hall of Fame - there is no limited celebration or development. The preservation of pioneers, players, contributors, and regional legends in Black Tennis history is a comprehensive continuous effort, as is the uninterrupted ongoing substantiation of Black history overall.
The Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) is a different element, yet it operates in the same nonstop manner that general Black history does. While BLM originated seven years ago based upon more recent injustices to Black people and a desire to expand greater cultural growth, it is historical and current day atrocities, and continued societal limitations of Black people that erected the organization. Driven primarily by Black culture wherever it operates in the world, an absolutely incredible worldly cultural mesh occurred after the inhumane killing of George Floyd. Will it stay? Who knows, but I certainly hope it does. Then we have America’s current political climate - God help us.
TCB: Thank you, Shelia.
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