Keisha Price has helped revive youth tennis at Ebony Racquet Club in Southeast Raleigh, a predominantly African-American part of the city. She has plenty to say about the challenges of navigating a “white” sport, pulling off a state championship and anticipating new courts.
Q: You played in the Ebony Racquet Club as a kid. What made you come back to volunteer?
A: My mother and father were a part of Ebony Racquet Club. My father passed away in 2009, and I stayed away from that area because of the memories. Then my mom reminded me this is what was given to me as a little girl, and she told me to come back and do something.
Q: How did you gather your first group of tennis kids?
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A: When I came back, it was just adults. I’d see kids who would come by and be destroying things or making a lot of noise or even cursing – things you don’t expect from (young) kids. I realized that there was nothing for them to do. These were boys and girls, neighborhood kids, who needed some help.
I started just knocking on doors asking, “Do you have children” or “Whose kids are these in the middle of the street? Can they come play for me?” That was my initial group.
Q: You’re the junior coordinator for the group and also a coach. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced over the past seven years?
A: Honestly, tennis in the past has always been known as a sport for anyone but African-Americans. It wasn’t until Venus and Serena (Williams) really hit the scene that you started to pay attention to the fact that there are African-American people on courts.
How do you take 10, 20, 30 kids – because we were growing fast – that look like me and make everybody see them as opponents and competitors but as friends also? That’s where my struggle was. It took some time because we’re not Venus and Serena. So we’re having to take kids who are African-American and bring them into a world of mainly white people and tell them to go and be comfortable.
Q: How do you do that?
A: Coach Chris (Brown) and I actually talk to them about understanding who they are and understanding that you don’t always have to look like everyone that’s around you. We make them comfortable with themselves so they can be comfortable with other people. That’s what we worked on quite a bit. It was a big deal.
Q: Tennis isn’t always cheap. What about money?
A: Initially, a lot of our kids were less-fortunate kids. As time goes on, the families get so they can afford a little bit more. But for the most part, they pay $20 for membership and $25 per month as long as they’re with us. We do a lot of pooling – families coming together for things like equipment. We work hand-in-hand with the city of Raleigh, too. Everyone is taken care of. Any time we have a little extra, we put it away for those who might need it.
Q: Raleigh plans to build new tennis courts in Southeast Raleigh. What will that mean for the club?
A: The new tennis center with the additional eight courts will have an enormous economic impact on not just Ebony Racquet Club but to the entire Southeast Raleigh community. They will provide jobs and more opportunities to host tournaments.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: When we first began, we would just miss the mark at end-of-season tournaments. Then there came a time when, every season, at least five of our teams or more were winners but, more so, each team would say something really positive about our teams, how they behaved, how nice they were, how they called everything so fairly.
In 2016, our first graduating group won the city league tournament and then went on to win the state championship. That had never been done. It was an all African-American group of tennis players, and we won.
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Born: Aug., 25, 1972
Nickname: Coach K
Family: Married 24 years, has four children