Two Harlem residents and tennis enthusiasts, Claude Cargill and Bill Brown, started the Harlem Junior Tennis & Education Program (HJTEP) in 1972. On June 13, HJTEP celebrated 50 years with its first in-person gala since 2019. Going without this annual fundraiser had been hard for the organization that helps and inspires youngsters through tennis and education. HJTEP brings tennis to youth ages six to 18 from high-risk, low-income neighborhoods and offers opportunities for self-development.
“To be able to see a lot of our board members, our donors and our grantors all together in one room really celebrating the development of champions and tennis, education and wellness in Harlem Junior Tennis is really exciting,” said executive director Katrina Adams. “Two years without having our gala, we had to be creative. We had to make some hard decisions, but through persistence and being resilient we were able to survive and thrive.”
Participants have a 95% high school graduation rate and more than 80% attend college. “For 50 years we’ve been saving lives and changing lives,” Adams said. “Using tennis as that vehicle that develops their life skills and carries them to success.”
The evening’s honorees were Jeanine D. Liburd, recipient of the Harlem Hero Award; Tony Signore, recipient of the Robert Holland Jr. Award; and tennis legend Monica Seles, who received the Shining Star Award.
“I’ve been around for 48 of the 50 years,” said James R. Kelly III, board chairman for the past 20 years. Over the past two years, Kelly has done his utmost to “keep people energized…and staying close to the kids because the educational component to our program is very important.”
Kelly wore a seersucker suit in memory of the late Mayor David Dinkins, a tennis lover and supporter of HJTEP. Dinkins was also on Seles’ mind. She said she used to call him “Coach.” “Mayor Dinkins was a big supporter of [HJTEP] and I wish he was here this evening,” said Seles. “He loved, obviously, tennis. He loved to play it, and he also loved kids, he loved to give back and he was just a great supporter.
“Tennis can be a big part of your life and can give you a lot of stepping stones and tools to navigate through life,” she added. “In tennis, you learn so much about yourself. You learn so many life skills. For so many kids…having this organization stand behind them is a really big support system.”