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Finding inspiration from King Richard: An interview with Carlos Mendez
The founder of the Multicultural Tennis Association discusses how his organization finds common ground with Richard Williams.
Published Nov 18, 2021
Soon, the world will get to see the story of triumph over adversity in the form of tennis film King Richard, which will get a wide release on November 19th. King Richard depicts the struggles of Venus and Serena Williams learning the game and growing up in Compton, California while being trained by father, Richard.
Though the film is set 35 years ago, the story resonates now more than ever. Multicultural Tennis Association founder Carlos Mendez found himself particularly inspired by the story of Richard Williams and his daughters.
Mendez founded the Multicultural Tennis Association, a National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) chapter in Las Vegas, to help low-income children and families in local Spanish-speaking communities develop a love and life-long passion for tennis. For the past 7 years, Mendez, along with his wife and two children, have been fulfilling the legacy of Richard Williams.
"The movie was amazing...I got a little emotional because of that connection," Mendez said.
"This movie really relates to our organization, because we identified a lack of community programs for inner-city, under-served communities when my daughter started playing tennis at the age of six. I realized that If we kept that going I was probably going to go broke. Richard Williams was an inspiration in my research coming across this plight: if el Señor Williams can do it then Señor Mendez can do it."
Since its launch, the Multicultural Tennis Association has grown tremendously. Children who once trained on cracked tennis courts now receive aid from the USTA, including after-school programming for elementary and middle schools. In 2018, it was only one of 10 NJTL chapters supported by former USTA President Katrina Adams. According to Mendez, it has been an incredible transition that has seen them grow to new heights.
"It has been a roller coaster ride. In our humble beginnings, we started going from park to park trying to find availability. It was easy to find cracked, unkempt courts," he said. "As we started in Las Vegas, the Clark County school district was our original godparents. They were the first organization to really believe in our mission. They granted us a middle school which we still operate out of today.
“Most recently, the Mike Tyson foundation assisted us in carrying out our programming in Chicago. So, there are organizations like Mike’s that believe in what we do and we simply need to expand it so our reach can really grow."
Still, Mendez believes that, despite the precedent set by Richard Williams and the help given by the Multicultural Tennis Association, it is still far too difficult for low-income children to play tennis—especially in the Hispanic community.
"I think that there has been some evolution in the black community, mainly because of greats like Arthur Ashe, Serena and Venus obviously, currently Sloane Stephens. However, in my community, in the Hispanic/Latino community, we are not there yet. In colleges, in our country, annually, we probably see no more than 1000 college players who look like me. There needs to be more organizations like ours and we need more support from our own community, the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, and the families that need to believe that this sport can actually change their child’s life.
‘We are making some progress but there is a lot more work to do."
Mendez has never wavered in his passion for growing the sport he loves in the Spanish-speaking communities he cherishes, both in Las Vegas and across the country. But it's not just about getting equipment in the hands of players or getting parents to believe in the sport: connections with past greats need to be made for the sport to truly thrive.
“More than anything we need access to programs that are year-round. Sports in general should be free, and I know that this may not rub people the right way, but I feel that there is not only an opportunity to capitalize on sport, but there is also an element of philanthropy."
"Tennis has been a very elite sport...[The Hispanic culture] has had champions in the past, Pancho Gonzalez and Rosemary Casals, but our community doesn’t know, and our kids don't have these connections. We don’t have [role models] in tennis. If athletes that are relevant now—Maria Sanchez and Marcos Giron—promote the sport, we could revolutionize and go from being 6% of college tennis players to being 21% like we are in soccer."
Just like Richard Williams believed in his daughters, Carlos Mendez believes in the children he now works with, doing extraordinary work that could change tennis.
"Often times, the trials and tribulations are set forth by certain systems that make us do extraordinary things, remarkable things," Mendez said.
Tickets for King Richard, which premieres across the country on November 19th, are on sale now.