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Tennis, Anyone? Anymore?

Since its founding in 2001, the Recreation Wish List Committee, chaired by Dr. Cora Masters-Barry, wife of former Mayor Marion Barry, had been operating a tennis academy for the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, nestled beside a broad, golden creek at 701 Mississippi Avenue in Southeast Washington. On Thursday, August 13, 2009, the government of the District of Columbia sent an eviction notice to the Committee, which, according to Attorney General Peter Nickles, was served because the Committee’s corporate registration had been revoked in 2006, prohibiting its continued operation.

So, this Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, which has served the lower income and at-risk youth of River East for nearly ten years, closes. What does it have to do with life in Penn Branch? Why should we care?

What’s the big deal?

As a member of the *Kiwanis Club of Capitol Hill and volunteering with the *Southeast White House’s Homework Club (an after-school program), I learned there are courageous, iron-willed, young people, right here in River East (Southeast), for whom that is very much a big deal. For these kids, who walk out of their apartments to wade through open-air drug markets, impending gang violence, prostitution and trash on their streets—the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center and institutions like it can radically change their perception of the world around them ..and of their place in it.

At its best, the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center introduces them to an ordered and functional world beyond the chaos of their streets. It is a world, the air of which is charged with the intensity of hard competition, but, also one shaped by time-honored rules, discipline and the expression of mutual respect between competitors. It is a world driven by a collective ambition to be the best at what you do and even to exceed one’s own expectations for individual progress. Furthermore, the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center shows these young people that the world beyond their street is one they can compete in ..and win in.

It’s a better world. It’s light in the darkness. It’s hope.

That is the big deal about the closing of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, ..but, what does it have to do with life here, in Penn Branch?

Whenever and wherever it’s in our power to do so, we ought to support such institutions, especially ones serving youth, right here in River East, because this is where D.C.'s future conscientious neighbors and community leaders are being made. It is from institutions like this, where young people are encouraged to think and dream beyond their immediate circumstances, however challenging, that society will welcome its next problem-solvers. If we're lucky, maybe, they will want a stake in this great neighborhood or another like it—to live and raise their kids here, champion its old-fashioned ideals ..and to fight like hell to keep it just as wholesome and nurturing a place as it is, now.

Maybe, they will even appreciate our scrappy, waterlogged, mosquito-ridden, opossum-infested montanita, as much as we Branchers do!

All controversy and political intrigue aside, in an August 13th interview with WJLA TV, Dr. Cora Masters-Barry insists that the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center’s corporate and tax exempt status is above board. Last Thursday, the Washington City Paper reported that Mayor Adrian Fenty’s office said the revocation of the Center’s corporate registration was discovered in a random check of nonprofits that have been operating in D.C. for years ..and, of the closing, assures all concerned that something can be "worked out".

Mel Dyer

*The Kiwanis Club of Capitol Hill and the Southeast White House, located at 2909 Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast Washington, D.C., are GREAT organizations that tirelessly and selflessly serve the economically and culturally diverse communities of River East. They welcome your time, your ingenuity and your financial contributions, however great or small. To get involved, check out the 'Great Folks, Great Stuff' links on the right of this page.

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