Before Wimbledon and before the Olympics, Zina Garrison started playing tennis at Houston’s MacGregor Park.
“For me, I didn’t really look at it as being a child prodigy,” Garrison said. “I just looked at it as I was playing something I loved and happened to be good at it.”
And at MacGregor Park where it all began, she teaches at her Zina Garrison academy, a non-profit she’s had since 1993.
“She didn’t have to do this, we’re talking in 1993, she was still at the top of her career. She made a lot of money; she didn’t have to do this,” Edward Gonzales said.
Gonzales grew up attending the academy led by John Wilkerson that Garrison eventually took over. Now, he works as a coach at the academy.
“Most players don’t do this. She set the example,” he said.
In her prime, Garrison was gaining international attention. But this was before Venus and Serena Williams, and the world was not welcoming to a Black female tennis player. When she was at the top of her game, she was the only top player without a clothing sponsor.
“I remember one of the agents said to me, ‘Zina if you only came five years later’ people were starting to understand that Black athletes could actually sell a product.’”
Although Houston is diverse, but Garrison said there were reality checks when she would travel. Not every place in America was as welcoming to people of color.
“Just recently I was going through some of my mom’s stuff and found some very upsetting letters that my mom had gotten,” Garrison recalled. “Basically calling me all different kinds of words, and I shouldn’t be on the tennis court, and who do I think I am playing this sport.”
Her sister recalls that after receiving the letters, they didn’t tell Zina; they just made sure she was never alone at matches.
At her academy, Garrison is not just teaching tennis. She strives to teach the intangibles, too.
“First of all, respect,” Garrison said. “Respect yourself first and then respect others. Also being accountable. I’m a huge, huge believer in service. Taking yourself out of yourself and then helping others and helping someone else.”
Lessons from a living legend.
The Zina Garrison Academy relies heavily on donations to help serve kids in the community. If you would like to help, you can find information by clicking here.