In their own words: Charles Matthews on Black History Month

Compiled by Peter Francesconi | February 20, 2023

As we celebrate Black History Month throughout February, we look toward leaders in tennis who are working to spread this sport far and wide, reaching deep into communities to impact youth on many levels. This month, you'll meet volunteer leaders who are telling their first-person stories and who recognize the influences family, friends, teachers and coaches have had on the direction their lives and careers have taken—and how that direction is positively impacting the newest generations. Today, meet Charles Matthews.


I’m very blessed and fortunate to be involved with tennis on a number of levels. It puts me in touch with so many wonderful people and organizations, and I like to think that it plays to my strengths, which include helping people of all ages improve the quality of their lives, and finding opportunities for change.


I grew up in the small town of Russellville, Ky., son of a farm hand and a factory worker. We didn’t have money, but my parents supplied everything that we needed, and as a result of that, to this day I know what it means to work hard to give your children every chance possible. Both my parents dropped out of school early in their education, and I remember when I was in high school, working my first part-time job, how shocked I was to learn I was earning more than my father at the time. So, graduating from high school, then college, was a huge deal for the three of us. I have a bachelor’s degree in human nutrition from the University of Kentucky.

Currently, I’m the head coach for the boys’ and girls’ teams at Sayre School in Lexington, where I live, but I also run programs for everyone at the school, starting with kindergarteners. I also captain adult league teams, so I spend some time “coaching” adult players as well; in fact, I’m the coordinator for Drop Shots Lexington, an adult social play program. In addition to tennis, I do commercials and am a hand model.


As a volunteer in this sport, I’m the immediate past president and a current board member of the Tennis Association of Central Kentucky, am on the USTA Kentucky board of directors, am a member of the USTA Southern Tennis on Campus Committee, and am a member of the USTA National CTA Committee. In 2021, I received the 11th Region Boys Coach of the Year Award and the USTA Kentucky Dee Dee Long Spirit Award.


People often use the word “mentor” to describe those who’ve had an influence on lives and careers, but I think for me, the better term to describe the handful of folks who have helped me on my path is “spirited advisors.”

To me, a “mentor” implies you follow a similar path as your mentor, but I find it beneficial that the amazing people I meet and work with—my spirited advisors—form a terrific resource and support system for me, so that I can navigate my OWN specific path through life and career. I’ve benefitted from phenomenal leaders at USTA Southern, for instance, for advice on committees and initiatives. The best piece of advice I've been given is to "carve your own path"—so that's what I intend to do.


We like to think of minorities as being as being segmented into areas such as race, gender, orientation, age, etc. But we often forget, especially within our organization, that there are minorities in economic terms, as well. I continue to make a stand for those who aren't at the top of the income bracket; all of us, no matter the financial situation, should have opportunities to serve this sport at the highest levels—to make this sport look like America.


As a person of color, while I respect what Black History Month has meant and continues to mean to our society, I do have some conflicting thoughts. Mainly, I don’t think Black History Month needs to be a separate celebration. If we as people of color hope to be fully accepted and integrated in our communities and beyond, then the celebration of Black history should be integrated throughout the year and throughout our lives as well. One month just isn't enough. We shouldn’t need a separate month to celebrate; it should fully be part of everyone's lives, all the time.

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