NJTL 50 for 50:
McCarton Ackerman | August 9, 2019
As the USTA Foundation celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the National Junior Tennis & Learning network, USTA.com looks at 50 NJTL leaders and alumni who helped shape this incredible community dedicated to helping youth strive for academic and athletic excellence on the tennis court, in the classroom and in life.
In this installment, we catch up with recent NJTL alumnus Destiny Steward-Bowden, who graduated high school this year and is heading off to college in the fall.
The Destiny-Steward Bowden File
Name: Destiny Steward-Bowden
NJTL Chapter: Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program (HJTEP)
Role with NJTL: former participant
Year became active in NJTL: 2012
How did you first get into NJTL programming?
Destiny-Steward Bowden: My father was looking for something near my school and the Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program was two blocks away from my middle school. ADVERTISEMENT I went for a practice day when I was 10 and the kids were super nice. The people in the office were really friendly. That was in 2012 and I’ve been there ever since.
What was it about NJTL programs that you enjoyed most?
Destiny-Steward Bowden: Have you ever met someone and they joke around with you like you’ve known them forever? That was what happened to me on my first day there. My dad is very big on education and they had a whole education program there. At HJTEP, I’d go on the court, joke around and play, and then go in the education room and get my homework done. I’d never had fun doing homework before HJTEP, so it was perfect for me.
Are there any memories from your time in the program that stand out?
Destiny-Steward Bowden: I always used to tell kids in the program that it’s impossible to be there for more than a year without meeting Venus, Serena… I met James Blake at the Harlem Armory in seventh grade. There are so many opportunities in the program. They’re always taking us to events or taking us upstate to play other people.
What did you learn about Arthur Ashe while in HJTEP? Did his legacy have any impact on you?
Destiny-Steward Bowden: I won the Arthur Ashe Essay Competition [in 2013] and the question was on what I would do if I could take anything from Arthur Ashe’s legacy. I wrote about how I would start my own program for kids because his legacy inspired me. That was my first year in the program. I got to meet Michelle Obama after winning, so he definitely had a big impact on me.
What was the experience of being at the US Open with the other essay winners like?
Destiny-Steward Bowden: It was insane. It felt like a red carpet experience from the moment the weekend started. I grew up in Harlem and didn’t even go to downtown [Manhattan] that much. I got to stay at the Marriott Hotel and they were showing me things around the city that I hadn’t really seen before.
Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day was an amazing experience because there were kids from all over the world experiencing it together. We had front row seats for the concert and got to see The Wanted and Ariana Grande. Then we got to meet Sasha and Malia Obama before having the chance to meet Michelle. She personally called us up there, which was really cool. Everyone was really genuine, which is something I’ve always appreciated about the tennis community.
What are you up to these days? Do you plan to stay involved in HJTEP now that you’ve graduated high school?
Destiny-Steward Bowden: I’ll be heading off this fall to Norfolk State University in Virginia. That’s another amazing thing about HJTEP. A lot of us are just going to play tennis recreationally, but HJTEP has nourished us in all aspects of our life. Even just from speaking at the USTA Foundation Gala, I received so many business cards and offers for internships.
I’ve worked at HJTEP for the past four summers and will definitely try to come back and visit these people who have raised me. I don’t think there’s a way I won’t be tied to HJTEP from all the contacts I’ve made.