For Coronado tennis pro Emmanuel Mensah, the court has always been a safe space. Growing up in Accra, the bustling capital city of Ghana, it was his refuge; a place where he couldn’t find trouble and trouble couldn’t find him.
“When I am there [at the tennis court as a kid] I don’t get in trouble; I don’t get depressed; I don’t get into fights – I thought it was the safest place to be,” Mensah said.
The memory of that sense of security inspired Mensah, 33, to launch ‘The Emmanuel Mensah Tennis School and Foundation.’
“It’s about trying to get kids from my community into the game of tennis,” Mensah said. “And getting them off the street and out of trouble.”
The foundation started five years ago, when Mensah began hearing about a group of kids travelling to the same tennis court he frequented in his youth.
“Everyday they come to the tennis court – it brought back memories for me for how I got started,” Mensah said. “Growing up I didn’t get all the help, so I thought maybe I am in a better position than them, so let me give them some help, more than I got growing up.”
For the first several years the foundation exclusively served as a way for Ghanian kids to get the necessary equipment to play tennis. Using his own money, Mensah sent racquets and shoes back to Accra.
“Every month I try to buy racquets and shoes with my own income,” Mensah said. “Last year, the Coronado Pro Shop helped me a lot. I talked to them about the foundation, and they helped me with the shoes – they got me deals and I was able to buy them at a cheaper price.”
In early January, Mensah returned home for the first time in six years. For over two-and-a-half weeks, he put on a daily clinic for 40 kids, ranging in age from five to 18.
“It was mostly tips on how to play; how to behave on the court; to respect each other,” Mensah said. “The joy and happiness from the kids – it was something they had been waiting for; someone to do it for them. They were very happy, I was also happy.”
Not only was Mensah able to avoid paying court fees to put on the clinics, the court regulars were happy to give up their time for a worthy cause.
”The people that play over there, when I told them about what I was going to do, they were happy with it,” Mensah said. “They even sacrificed the time they play so I could spend time with the kids.”
The experience also served as an interesting lesson in socio-economics.
“We have some hard-working kids here in Coronado,” Mensah said. “But kids in Africa, I know for sure, every day they step on the court, they show that they want it more. Sometimes I don’t see that from some of the kids I teach here. I have a few, when you try to push them, they just don’t push back – you don’t see that from Africans, you push, they push back – everyone wants to get better.”
Looking to the future, Mensah said he wants to make the clinics an annual event, but as of right now he isn’t sure about the when and how.
“It’s still up in the air, I have to discuss it with my wife,” Mensah said with a laugh.
Official Site: https://www.teammannyfoundation.org/