NJTL 50 for 50:
McCarton Ackerman | August 13, 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 NJTL alumnus Esu Ma’at, who currently works as the National Manager for the USTA’s Diversity & Inclusion department.
The Esu Ma’at File
Name: Esu Ma’at
NJTL Chapter: Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program (HJTEP)
Role with NJTL: Former participant
Year became active in NJTL: 1985
How did you first become involved with the NJTL?
Esu Ma’at: My mom got a flyer at her job about a tennis program down the street called the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program. ADVERTISEMENT I was 13 at the time. I checked it out and would go on to basically grow up in that program.
What are some of the ways that being in HJTEP benefitted you on and off the court?
Esu Ma’at: Receiving a college scholarship to play tennis was never on my radar until I went to the program. That was the goal which other kids were aspiring to, so it became my goal as well.
There were some incredible players in the program like James and Thomas Blake, so it inspired me to become the best player I could possibly be. It certainly gave me the opportunity to play and nurture my passion for the sport.
The program became a home away from home, which was even more significant for me. I could focus on building character and becoming a tennis player.
Arthur Ashe would periodically make visits to HJTEP. Did you get the chance to meet him?
Esu Ma’at: I didn’t get to meet him in the program, but had the chance to meet him once in North Carolina. He’s the reason I started playing tennis, though. I watched him play at Wimbledon and told my dad that I wanted to try. A family friend bought me a tennis racquet and that was it. I was hitting against the wall and beating Arthur Ashe with the matches I played in my head.
Arthur was at the center of this big mural when you walked into the Harlem Armory. A lot of the coaches there were friends with him and other players had met him. He was this God-like figure that everyone talked about. You knew what his impact was and were inspired by it. Just like people started playing golf because of Tiger Woods, Arthur Ashe was the reason we all thought we could play and succeed in this sport.
How would you say that HJTEP has evolved over the years?
Esu Ma’at: It’s definitely evolved from a capacity building standpoint. It started as a mom-and-pop shop and is a now a four-star NJTL chapter with full-time staff and Katrina Adams as the Executive Director. They have an operating income of around $2 million, so that also means the level of coaching has improved over time. A lot of kids in the program came back as certified tennis coaches. Mind you, we never had certified tennis coaches when we were in the program!
It’s also evolved from an academic standpoint. When I was in the program, you just brought your report card in and could play tennis as long as you had a C-plus average. Now there’s a full menu of academic services to help kids at all levels close the achievement gap.
There’s a real opportunity now to make a much deeper impact in communities that need much more than tennis.