Putting one foot in front of the other in search of a dream and believing in an idea that others doubted encompasses how Cora Masters Barry feels as the life-changing sports and education center she founded in Southeast marks its 25th anniversary.
And on Saturday, Nov. 2, The Recreation Wish List Committee [RWLC] will celebrate 25 years of impacting youth in the greater Washington area during a star-studded gala, “25 . . . and Still We Thrive . . . Transforming Children’s Lives,” at the venue where little miracles occur day after day.
Barry will be joined by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, one of the evening’s several honorees, along with honorary co-chairs Venus and Serena Williams at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center [SETLC] along with hundreds of friends and supporters as they reflect on the victories of the past and look toward an even brighter future. The gala takes place from 6:30 to 11 p.m.
“The RWLC and the SETLC have been invaluable institutions in Washington, DC. Our motto, “Tennis is the hook; education is the key,” is the organizing principle for the services we have provided to more than 20,000 children and youth between the ages of 3 and 18,” said Barry, former DC first lady, SETLC founder and RWLC CEO/founder.
“I am proud of the opportunities that we have afforded our children and this event is a recognition and celebration of the continued support we receive and bestow on our community and youth.”
Barry admitted she sometimes finds it difficult to believe how her dreams about transforming a parcel of land in what was then the District’s most poverty-stricken, crime-infested area into an oasis – an $18 million, recently-renovated facility – touted as the first of its kind by the U.S. Tennis Association.
Still, she recalls the challenges she and her board members faced in the early days in Ward 8 including a high school dropout rate and reading and math levels of disturbing proportion. Even more, she remained concerned with the abysmally-low level of self-esteem which put a stranglehold on the aspirations of so many of the youth living East of the River.
Board Chairman Michael Rogers says the history of the Center and its growth deserves to be told both near and far.
“The journey of Mrs. Barry’s endurance and impact is nothing less than amazing,” he said.
“From the beginning, we’ve been committed to nurturing children and supporting their parents in their own endeavors. This serves as a perfect example of what a non-profit can do and the services it can provide for those who live in the community,” Rogers added.
Barry points to the importance of having faith, both in herself and the Center.
“Faith without works is dead,” she said. “One person can change the world. I have come to realize how important it is that before closing my eyes, that I have been intentional about helping someone else – helping others move one step closer to their hopes and dreams.”
“We teach our children hope and self-esteem. Why? Because many of them don’t even know who they are. Programs we offer, like Blacks in Wax, serve as a life-changing experience. Imagine a child who once could barely read, writing, memorizing and then performing on stage before a crowd where they receive praise for their efforts.”
“Sometimes, that’s all they need. Each child who comes to us has so much potential but they need guidance. The reading and math scores of our children continue to rise. They continue to believe in themselves and dream. This is what we can do if we care.”
Rogers says teaching discipline to the children continues to be an essential element to their overall strategy.
“In many ways, tennis helps us with the lessons we seek to instill in our youth,” he said. “It’s hard work but it’s certainly possible. We can never thank the Williams sisters enough for coming on board with Mrs. Barry and her vision. Both Venus and Serena, as Mrs. Barry often reminds the kids, came from a community just like ours. But they refused to give up or listen to the naysayers.”
“They came out of Compton with their hair in beads, swinging their tennis rackets for all it’s worth and winning,” Barry said. “They are role models for our children forever.”
Justus Bobbitt, the Williams sisters’ niece and now site director, has become a fixture at the Center and says her life has changed for the better because of the lessons she’s learned.
“I’ve had my own struggles and setbacks,” she said. “But I’ve also come to recognize the significance of having hope in one’s life. We lead by example for our children and we preach and teach hope. When needed, I share portions of my life with our children so they can see that you can achieve anything, if you continue to have faith, to have hope and to follow positive examples of others who have overcome adversity.”
Honorees for the gala include: Bowser; basketball legend and sports broadcaster, Isiah L. Thomas; RWLC Board Member and public relations executive, Raymone Bain; THEARC Director of Programming, Kimberly Douglas; Executive Director of the Congress Heights Community and Development Corporation, Monica T. Ray; and longtime ANC and community activist, Mary Cuthbert.
The Celebration Chair is Senior VP of Exelon, Maggie Fitzpatrick. Entertainment includes go-go group Sirius Company performing Chuck Brown hits; pop-rock group, Mary McBride Band and LCB, featuring former lead singer for the Platters, Joe Coleman and former Drifters lead singer, Joe Blunt.
As always, it will be an evening of dinner, dancing and entertainment with the now-historic and traditional attire, “Tennis Shoes, Ties and After Five.”