NJTL 50 for 50: Melvin Carter
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 the current Mayor of St. Paul, Minn., Melvin Carter. Mayor Carter, a St. Paul native, first picked up a tennis racquet at the Ernie Greene tennis courts at the Martin Luther King Center in St. Paul. He was coached by Ernest Greene, a local coach and stalwart in the tennis community in the St. Paul area.
Carter went on to study business administration from Florida A&M University, and in 2017, was elected the mayor of St. Paul, where he became the first African American mayor of the city.
The Melvin Carter File
Name: Melvin Carter
NJTL Chapter: Formerly MLK Tennis Buffs, Inc., currently St. Paul Urban Tennis
Role with NJTL: Alumni
Year became active in NJTL: 1985
USTA.com: How did you first get involved with the NJTL?
Melvin Carter: As early back as I can remember, we had tennis lessons on those courts every summer. It would just be a court full of kids. Mr. [Ernie] Green, would be out there, just as patient as he could with us, teaching us how to play tennis.
We were kids hanging around the recreation center, hanging out around the playground and he [Ernie Greene] would just grab people – he literally would grab kids off the playground, and he had a bag full of tennis racquets and you didn’t even have to have your own tennis racquets. We did eventually, but you didn’t even have to have your own tennis racquet because we would have a bag of them and a couple of hoppers full of balls, and he’d just say, “Come play.”
USTA.com: So what was your favorite aspect about playing tennis with Mr. Green’s program?
Melvin Carter: It was just fun. You know, starting out, of course it wasn’t super-serious tennis, we just had a lot of fun. He engaged with us on a level that was fun and engaging, that made us want to be there.
It was a place where once he kind of started pulling kids off of the playground, all of our friends were there, so it was kind of the place to be every summer.
USTA.com: What would you say is the greatest lesson that you learned during your time in the program?
Melvin Carter: One of his big rules was that he’d rather us hit the ball into the net or hit the ball over the fence and really practice your full swing, then kind of try to have a safe swing to just get it over the net. And he gave us just a real type of safety net to try things.
What he would encourage us to do is if you hit it over the fence last time, at least hit it into the net, try to figure out how to learn from your mistakes and make a new mistake next time.
We didn’t have to be perfect, he never asked anyone to be perfect, he wasn’t this kind of ultra-serious, everything has to be the right way sort of thing. His big rule was, keep trying and keep your feet moving, and I find that’s pretty good advice for life.