February 20, 2014
By Kitty Oliver
Special to the NNPA from the Westside Gazette
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Greater Fort Lauderdale is also making history by preserving it.
Plans are underway for the American Tennis Association, the country’s oldest organization for Black tennis players, to establish a permanent home for recreational tennis and the training of future professional players. The project will create a Black Tennis Hall of Fame, as well, to showcase historical memorabilia on the contributions of African Americans to the sport – items that have only been seen so far in a limited way in occasional traveling exhibitions.
The ATA, founded in 1916 in Washington, D.C., created a circuit of clubs and tournaments for Black tennis players who were excluded from the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. Since then, the mostly-volunteer organization, now based in Maryland, has remained in the forefront of the sport, challenging the racial barriers of segregation, cultivating promising young talent, providing a vital social network for African American professionals (notables include Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe), and influencing younger Black stars such as the Williams sisters and Sloane Stephens.
As a first step, the ATA has moved its annual National Championship Tournament to Greater Fort Lauderdale using four professional tennis venues throughout the county. More than 3,000 amateur adult and youth tennis players and their families are expected again this year in late July and early August for the 97th annual event.
According to Philadelphia oral surgeon Dr. Franklyn Scott, president of the ATA, “There is so much history of African Americans in tennis but it has only been told sporadically, and a lot of people have benefited from this history. The goal is to bring African American tennis enthusiasts and players together on a regular basis to enjoy the sport in the top vacation destination for African American travelers in the U.S.”
VStarr Interiors, a firm co-owned by tennis great Serena Williams, has created a design for the headquarters. Sites are being considered in Fort Lauderdale’s historic Black Sistrunk community as part of a larger economic development effort where tourism is playing a big part.
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau (GFLCVB) is spearheading the initiative, partnering with Greeks and Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the ATA. “Everything we do is about community partnerships and relationships that encourage growth,” said Albert Tucker, Vice President for Multicultural Business Development, who has been leading the charge.
The multicultural market has become one of the fastest growing segment in the travel industry, he pointed out. For a long time, however, marketing to this group was not aggressively pursued by many segments of the travel industry. Over a decade ago, the GFLCVB, led by president Nicki E. Grossman, recognized the area’s appeal to African American, Caribbean American and Hispanic travelers and a full-service Multicultural Business Development Department was created within the GFLCVB specifically to market to the multicultural traveler and pursue large-scale events, groups and convention business.
Culturally, the Fort Lauderdale/Broward County area now rivals Queens County, NY as the most diverse multi-ethnic urban area in the country where African Americans, Caribbeans and Hispanics represent more than 50 percent of the population. People of color make up more than 60 percent of the 131,000 Broward residents directly employed in the hospitality industry and comprise almost a quarter of the 11 million visitors to the area each year.
Black travelers comprise the lion’s share of the market and Greater Fort Lauderdale has hosted a wide range of African American professional organizations, including the World Youth Netball Championships with the estimated economic impact in excess of $10 million; the 100 Black Men of America who came in 2010 and will bring their conference back to the area in June; the Biennial Conference of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters; the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Executives; the United States Hispanic Contractors Annual Conference; the National Bowling Association, which brought more than 10,000 bowlers and their families resulting in an economic impact of $14.5 million; and groups of Black accountants, government officials and gospel artists.
The National Urban League, the most influential civil rights organization in the country, will convene its star-studded annual conference for the first time in Fort Lauderdale in July, 2015. The Urban League’s new state-of-the-art multipurpose Community Empowerment Center is part of the historic Black Fort Lauderdale Sistrunk Boulevard corridor, a hub of cultural and economic revitalization which includes the landmark African American Research Library and Cultural Center and the Midtown Business and Arts District.
Black organizations are drawn to the area by events such as the annual Jazz in the Gardens music festival held March 14-16 this year featuring top national talent in jazz, R&B, hip hop and gospel; by international cricket, soccer, and Australian rules football matches; as well as world-class African American and Caribbean cultural presentations. As Albert Tucker of the CVB notes, “We want people to recognize that we’re not just the ocean. We’re about community, which is thrusting Broward County into the national and international spotlight.”