When fans entered the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday afternoon, they were greeted by blue-and-white uniformed drummers from the Marching Force at Hampton University, a historic black university in Virginia.
The band received some of the biggest cheers from participants on Brooklyn United, a music and arts program in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood where many college drummers had previously hone their skills.
Marching Force was part of the HBCU Live at the US Open, a cultural and educational event that brings together music, dance, and other elements of a tennis party in Queens.
“This really brings something very black into a non-black space,” said Lauren Grove, senior experience architect at The Grant Access, the event planning company that helped organize the event. “The goal is to make everyone feel included but also provide a little education.”
Grove said HBCU Live historically celebrates black colleges and universities as well as black people in tennis. The paintings associated with trees contain facts about Althea GibsonThe first black person to win Wimbledon. Gibson attended Florida A&M University at HBCU
Inside the tennis center, Marching Force dancers, in sparkling silver bodysuits and white sneakers, cycled and moved to the music in an arena near Arthur Ashe Stadium, where Coco Gauff won on Wednesday and Serena Williams is the main draw for the night session. .
“Our biggest opportunity is in naive tennis. Get out of the game,” said Kamau Murray, who was Sloane Stephens’ coach when she won the US Open in 2017.
He said the sport was better when everyone was involved. He said a number of black ATP players, including Venus and Serena Williams, Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, Coco Gauff, Taylor Townsend and Frances Tiafoe, had a significant impact on “the growth of the game, the growth of marketing, and the growth of revenue.”
said Murray, now an analyst for the Tennis Channel.
Khalil Jones, 31, who played on the HBCU Tuskegee University tennis team, was a fan of the dancers Wednesday afternoon. Jones, who began playing tennis at the age of six, entered the team in her second year. She said her favorite players she grew up with were the Williams sisters.
“It’s definitely emotional because we’ve all been on that journey with her since day one,” Jones said of Serena Williams’ retirement. “I’m excited to be here and to be in the moment while this is happening.”
Not far from all the action there are two sisters, Quintella Thorne, 68, and Kara Munro, 72. The women traveled to the tournament from Columbus, Georgia, and Shreveport, Louisiana, respectively. They had tickets for Williams’ 7 p.m. match against second seed, Annette Kontaveit, which they purchased in June, before Williams announced she would be transitioning from tennis at some point soon.
“I think it brought a lot of people of color into the game,” said Thorne, who has competed at the US Open nine times including this year.
“It was great to see her because she changed the game of tennis,” she said, adding that “before Serena, the game was so simple, so cute and simple, but it brought strength.”
Monroe, who has competed at the US Open six times, including this year, said she picked up tennis at age 60 because of Williams.
“You can do what you see, if you don’t see it, you have no idea what you can accomplish,” Munro said.