Celebrating Black History Month: Karen Chambers
Karen Chambers is a great example when it comes to starting tennis later on in life and having a heart for service.
Growing up, Karen loved spending time outside, specifically playing softball competitively, but she always had her eyes on tennis. “I used to see people playing tennis all the time and I thought this looks like something that I could do.”
However, years would pass before she finally took herself up on that challenge. “I was able to finally pick it [tennis] up when I was stationed in Fort Sam Houston,” she recalled. One day when she was stationed there, she looked out her window and saw a tennis instructor teaching kids. “I went over one day and asked what’s going on.” Turns out they were all home-schooled children that wanted to learn the game. “So, I asked him if he would possibly take in an adult and he did.”
Being in the military, Karen had to bounce around to different bases. Each time though, she found time to play tennis and was able to meet plenty of wonderful people through the sport.
Today she is still involved in tennis thanks to Veterans Affairs, which has a program that offers tennis lessons to veterans. She originally joined the military after visiting the Dyess Air Force Base in Texas. “I realized this is a very independent lifestyle and I’d like to do this because I was raised in a family of seven.”
When she went to college, she had dreams of being a dentist or a clinical psychologist. After going through the testing process, they determined she would be a military officer. She joined the Army Nurse Corps as a Direct Commission Officer. “My idea was to go serve for three to four years and get out, but the years kept passing and I kept enjoying what I was doing.” After 28 years of service, climbing up to a Colonel, and living in different parts of the world, Karen retired from the military.
What do you do when not playing tennis?
When Karen isn’t on the tennis court, she loves to ride for the National Association of Buffalo Soldiers & Troopers Motorcycle Club (NABSTMC). This is the world's largest African American motorcycle club and organization helping feed the homeless, build homes for families in need, mentor youth, and provide scholarships to graduating seniors.
Karen has served as the ambassador and the Vice President of the Tampa Bay chapter. This has led to some unique opportunities for her. “They asked me if I would be the Grand Marshall for the [Martin Luther King Jr. Day] parade.” She has done this twice now, with one being the first black MLK parade ever held in Abilene, Texas. Karen even has two days (Feb. 7 & 11) named after her in Abilene.
Why is it Important to Celebrate Black History Month
To Karen, it’s important we celebrate Black History Month because people need to be informed. She finds it important for children to grow up knowing their history. “As a young child, if I’m looking at someone that looks like me, talks like me, then to me, that’s going to connect to me a lot more,” she said.
While Karen says she was lucky and didn’t have to grow up dealing with hate because of her race, she saw it all around her. Even though that can discourage many young black people, she believes it is important for them and everyone to learn about Black History, because at the end of the day anyone can achieve their dreams if they try hard enough.
Her message of unity to everyone was short but sweet, we must have compassion for one another. “There’s something about sports, teams, the military, when I played softball, riding with the Buffalo Soldiers, that creates unity and oneness,” she said. “It removes all the other barriers because you become focused, and all have one common goal.”