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Diversity and Inclusion: Interview with Mya Smith-Dennis

March 12, 2021

Mya Smith-Dennis is USTA Northern's Manager of Diversity, Inclusion and Education. 


1. Why is D&I an important part of a tennis nonprofit's strategic plan?


We can't successfully promote and develop the growth of tennis without diversity. We want to make tennis reflect the population we serve and ensure everyone feels included in the sport. We need diversity of thought and perspectives to be innovative and create a space where everyone can participate regardless of their background.


2. How does USTA Northern have room to grow in the D&I space?


I want people to see players that look like them at every level, every age and in our coaches and staff. We seek and need participation from all communities to reach our goal of growing the game. There's definitely room to develop new partnerships and invite more people to play a lifetime sport.


3. What's been done already?


We've taken some major steps in the past year, starting with putting together a task force of staff, board members, providers and volunteers to evaluate and make recommendations on our volunteer recruitment process (board and committee members). We've been intentional in recruiting diverse members that have talents and skills that we are missing. 

USTA Northern received more applications for our board of directors than ever before and more diverse applicants than ever before. We also established a new mentor program for new members. Internal progress has been important too. Staff and board members have access to more training opportunities, we've started an article club where we meet every two weeks and have discussions about race, gender, privilege and more; then we discuss how these issues relate to our work.


USTA Northern is also a sponsor of the Minnesota Tennis Teacher's Conference. We had record attendance and more diverse presenters than ever before and about half of our presenters were women. We debuted a virtual conference in May that featured presentations on outreach recruiting for diversity, women in coaching, and a panel elevating Black voices.


4. What's in the works now?


We have another D&I Task Force gathering data from prospective players and ensuring that we are getting diverse perspectives and seeking insights from different communities. This data will inform our next strategic plan. 


We're also launching a program called DIVE. It stands for Diverse Immersion Volunteer Engagement. It's important to us to get people from diverse backgrounds and offer them leadership training, networking opportunities and diversity training. This will help us develop a pipeline of great diverse volunteers and it will give our CTAs, NJTLs, and other partners well-trained and talented volunteers to choose from.


5. What does success in this space look like for you in three years? 10 years?


I want USTA Northern to make an impact and be a leader in Diversity and Inclusion - in every aspect of our organization being able to see our community reflected. We'll continue to develop new strategic partnerships with organizations that serve diverse populations and use our amazing providers to give people a wonderful experience. I would like people to see tennis as a sport for everyone. 



For educational books and links, please visit USTA Northern's Educational Resources here.


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