2021 Eastern Hall of Fame: Dr. Emily Moore
Dr. Emily Moore is a Long Island-based educator and activist. In the 1970s, she founded the Alliance Junior Tennis Development Program which introduced the sport to thousands of local kids. Through her efforts, many of her children went on to compete in tournaments across the country as well as obtain tennis scholarships for college. A lot of these students may not have discovered the joysof the game were it not for Moore’s programming.
The foundation of this work was set at an early age. A gifted athlete, Moore competed in hockey, soccer and basketball at Freeport High School in Freeport, N.Y. and was voted Most Athletic Female. Outside of school, she played on a softball team and learned tennis in the park.
“Sports were really my teacher, my survival growing up,” she says.
Even then, she understood the lessons sports could provide. A career in physical education seemed like a natural fit. In 1961, she headed to Morgan State University—an HBCU in Baltimore, Maryland—to pursue her degree. Students at the college took an active role in leading the Civil Rights Movement in the city, and Moore spent many of her weekends at demonstrations. Shewas one of 11 students arrested and thrown into prison for refusing to leave a segregated theater. The jail wanted $600 for bail money, an outrageous amount that even exceeded the tuition for Morgan State at the time. She and her fellow students stayed in jail for a week. Their efforts gained national attention, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came out to support them.
This wouldn’t be Moore’s last brush with events of historical significance. Later, after graduating from Morgan State in 1965, she joined the Peace Corps and taught health and physical education (including tennis) in Nigeria for two years. There, she lived through civil war and three military coups—one of which occurred just as she was landing in the country.
“We saw them marching, running around the airport with their M-16s,” she says. “They didn’t touch the American airlines. But [from then on] we always knew we had to be careful.”
In 1967, the civil unrest became too dangerous, and Moore and others were forced to pack up quickly and evacuate. They found themselves stuck on a barge for three whole days before they could escape.
“We finished the water and food on the first day,” she recalls. “We heard shots, and we were on a flat barge. Where can you duck and hide?”
These moments helped form the crux of Moore’s central philosophy as she returned to the states, where she earned a Master’s Degree in education and counseling from Hofstra University in 1972 and embarked on a teaching career that would eventually span five decades. (Her students, incidentally, included former basketball player Julius “Dr. J” Erving and actor/comedian Eddie Murphy.)
“You learn that in life there are going to be challenges,” she explains. “There are going to be difficult situations. And you have to figure out how you’re going to survive it, how you’re going to educate yourself, and also, how you’re going to win.”
With Alliance, Moore aimed to not only teach kids how to swing a racquet, but also how to rise to the occasion to face these challenges. Exercising discipline, developing leadership qualities and maintaining respect for others, she says, were just as integral lessons as learning the proper way to hit a forehand.
Officially, Moore founded Alliance in 1975—at least that’s when the first newspaper article on her work appeared. She estimates she informally set up shop in a park in Roosevelt, N.Y. even further back than that, encouraging young park goers to come on court and try out the sport.
Some of her colleagues were skeptical that kids would be interested in learning the game, but she faced the challenge and proved them wrong. As the program grew and she started fundraising, Moore was able to bring some of her students to the US Open, and she also traveled with them across the country as they competed in national tournaments. Importantly, beyond the competitions, these trips always contained an educational element.
“I’m a historian,” Moore says. “Whatever state we’re going to, [the kids] are going to have to know something about it. So we’d have an educational day to go and visit the sites after the tournaments were over. We visited colleges like Morehouse in Atlanta, Norfolk in Virginia. And a lot of them went on to those schools. So through tennis, they were exposed [to these things].”
This is what makes Moore most proud of the work that she’s done through Alliance—that so many of her children, as she calls them, have grown up, attended great schools and gone on to become equally great citizens.
“They’ve all graduated from colleges, from Howard to Morgan State to Harvard to MIT,” she says. “I told them you can go and be anything you want to be. I’ve got a group of kids who are doctors and lawyers. I’m proud that I’ve trained young people to become leaders and teachers of the world. I let them know from the beginning that we compete in a world with seven continents. It’s about ‘How can I help make a contribution to society?’ Not going through life and saying ‘What’s in it for me?’”
For all her efforts, Moore has been given a plethora of accolades. Arthur Ashe honored her with his Junior Tennis Development Award in 1988, and she also received the Outstanding Citizen Contribution To Improve Education from the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Honors. In 2015, she was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from her alma mater, Morgan State University.
“All my life people said, ‘How are you going to do this?’” she says when reflecting on her legacy. “I heard so many can’ts, I can’t believe it. My mother always said, ‘Try your best, do your best.’ Not every experience is going to be beautiful, but we will strive for excellence, to be the best we can be.”
Dr. Emily Moore was inducted into the Eastern Hall of Fame at the 34th Annual Eastern Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, which was held Friday, August 27, 2021. Proceeds from the event—including ticket sales—benefited the Junior Tennis Foundation (JTF), which helps provide scholarships to junior and adaptive players across the Eastern Section. Learn more about the ceremony and the JTF here.
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