Voices from the Mid-Atlantic: Emperess Johnson

February 18, 2021

USTA Mid-Atlantic continues the celebration of Black History Month and elevating the voices of Black players in our Section.  As important as it is to pay tribute to the past, it is equally as important to celebrate our present and future players. This week we are featuring a first-person essay by Emperess Johnson. Emperess grew up playing Junior Team Tennis, tournaments, and high school tennis in the Mid-Atlantic Section. She is currently a freshman at Tuskegee University, the #4 HBCU nationally. Emperess will play tennis for the Golden Tigers this spring. 


I am Emperess Johnson and I grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland, which is where I reside today. I started playing tennis at the age of 4, and I wanted to play tennis

because I looked up to Serena Williams. Growing up, my father was a tennis coach and all of my siblings play or played tennis which also influenced me to play tennis. 


Until I was able to play in high school and college, I played tournaments and traveled with Washington Tennis & Education Foundation (WTEF) playing Junior Team Tennis. My siblings and I trained with WTEF until we went off to college. I currently train at the WTEF campus in SE, Washington D.C., with Coach Mike Ragland. He helped shape me into the player I am now and also helped me secure a full athletic tennis scholarship at Tuskegee University. Willis Thomas also had a huge impact on me. He coached at WTEF for decades and also worked with former World #1 Althea Gibson and Zina Garrison. His love for the game and coaching skills to young athletes like myself is like no other. 


During my time with WTEF, I played the ATA (American Tennis Association) Nationals Tournament, which is my favorite tournament to play because it’s predominantly for African Americans. This tournament is like a family reunion, where I am able to connect with old tennis friends and meet new lifelong friends, while also embracing great competition. I believe if any kid were to attend this tournament it will inspire them to continue playing tennis. As more people of color become big household names in the sport, I believe that will help attract more diversity in tennis. 


Being a leader in the tennis community is about encouraging more people to play, being an example of success in tennis, and using my voice to help people understand that tennis is for people of color. My future wish for tennis is to see more young people of color involved in the sport whether recreationally, in college, professionally, or coaching.


As we continue to celebrate Black History Month we will be focusing on connecting the past, present, and future generations of tennis players in the Mid-Atlantic. You can read our previous BHM spotlight story and look for more spotlight stories before the end of the month. Make sure you follow us on  Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and join the conversation. 

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