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Diversity Roundtable Focuses On Inclusion, Partnerships

October 6, 2010 01:17 PM
Kevin Clayton
Yasmine Osborn
Natalia Martinez
Kevin Clayton, of Atlanta, Ga., moved into the national post of USTA Chief Diversity Officer last year. Because of his devotion to working at the grass-roots level and his leadership for USTA Southern’s two staffers with primary responsibility for diversity, we sat down for an hour-long roundtable this summer.
Here is a condensed version of the wide-ranging discussion. 
Participating in the roundtable conducted at the USTA Southern office, in Norcross, Ga., was:
  • Kevin Clayton, USTA National Diversity Officer
  • Yasmine Osborn, USTA Southern Diversity, Grants and NJTL Manager
  • Natalia Martinez, USTA Southern Tennis Service Representative Hispanic Outreach
  • Ron Cioffi, USTA Southern Director of Communications
Ron Cioffi            
                Thank you so much for being here. So everyone let’s start with Kevin. Our goal here is to talk about your role in diversity and how it affects the USTA Southern Section.
Kevin Clayton:       
                Okay. Well as Chief Diversity Officer, my role from a National standpoint is to provide leadership across really all the sections or at least provide the resources and the leadership across all the sections to help us achieve our goal. Our goal is to make tennis look like America. As far as the connecting point back to the Southern Section, the Southern Section being the largest section geographically and also from a revenue standpoint for the USTA, was for me a prime section to begin partnering with and both with Natalia and also with Yasmine and John (Callen, USTA Southern Executive Director) and Rex (Maynard, USTA Southern President). 
RC:          How about you Yasmine? Tell us about what you do.
Yasmine Osborn:   
                I am the Diversity and Grants Manager for the Southern Section, so I actually work closely with the Office of Diversity – the National office – in more than just my diversity role. I also work in the National Junior Tennis and Learning Network, and I think those two departments at National work really closely together. Just as in a lot of programs that we do and NJTL is very geared towards multicultural participation. Many of the programs and people that we work with are really trying to promote diversity inclusion, through those programs and program directors.
                So I work a lot with Natalia, with Hispanic Outreach specifically. We just try to stay onboard with what National’s doing.
RC:           Natalia, we talked a little bit about what you do and your unique role nationally with your fluency in Spanish. Talk a little bit about that.
Natalia Martinez:   
                Okay, I am the Hispanic Outreach TSR for the Southern Section, and specifically I cover the nine Southern states unlike the other TSRs that each have their own states. I promote tennis in the Latino community. That’s basically it. I have a Hispanic background as I’m sure you can tell. But, it’s not only the language that helps me to kind of relate to the community. It is also the background because I was raised in my country of Colombia. So, the cultural difference is big. That’s very important when you’re trying to approach to a community. Specifically with tennis, it’s a little bit complicated because in Central and South America, except for Argentina, tennis is such a new sport. All we know about is soccer.
RC:          Kevin, you’ve been in this role for about a year and a half. How has that progressed? Talk a little bit about where you are with your goals.
KC: There’s been peaks and valleys. Initially, I really sought out to understand the organization. I knew in order to understand the organization I had to go to all the Sections and spend time in the Sections as well as the complexity of the volunteer group, staff group, National staff group, Section staff, Section volunteers. I really spent most of the time trying to understand who does what, how they do what, when they do what, and why they do what. Going into year two, we implemented a Diversity Summit, which had the leadership of all the Sections and some of out National board members and the National Diversity Team in which we met during the annual meeting – right after the annual meeting in Dallas.
RC:          It’s our basic goal to increase numbers and participation in diverse communities or are there other kinds of targets that are sub-targets of that?
KC:          That is one goal and I’d say probably on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being most important, it’s probably a 5.
The reason why is that increasing participation does not mean you’re going to grow the sport. That just means we’re going to have, at some point, people may be coming in and playing and then they may drop out unless you have sustainability. Really what the name goal is to create an inclusive environment for everybody so that the Hispanic community feels there’s a place at the table for them, not just playing because our diversity strategy also includes vendors. It includes sponsors. It includes volunteers. It includes staff.
 RC:          Why don’t we talk a little bit about USTA Southern and how Southern fits in with this.
YO:          One of the things that I was talking about before about really trying to mimic what National office is doing is the Diversity Summit.
RC:          There’s something I’d like to ask, starting with Natalia, is if somebody says what do you do – how many clinics do you do? How do you find groups that you want to promote to?
NM:          Yeah, actually I get that question a lot like how do you do it. So I think the first part would be partnerships. For example Hispanic organizations, churches, schools partnerships are number one. Also I use the media to let the people know that we exist because, like I said, tennis is new for our community and so people don’t know what USTA is.  Also we participate in many events.
RC:          Kevin, how do you leverage people in different Sections based on population, based on culture, based on you know religious viewpoints and sexual orientation in different areas.
KC:          For me I start with who has the passion for the work. You have two people at the table that stack up against anybody in the country that have a real genuine passion for the work.
RC:          There are different types of diversity around the country. If you lived in California, you know diversity because you’ve gotten all those different communities. You’ve got a strong Latino community, strong Asian community, strong Afro-American community that are as different than as any in the country. Is that part of the learning experience?
KC:          Yes, that’s part of it. But to be more specific, it’s not necessarily New York Spanish-speaking different than Atlanta’s Spanish-speaking versus Texas. It’s that you have different cultures within the Spanish-speaking community. So you know the Puerto Rican community is very different than the Mexican community, very different from the Colombian community and you make a mistake by doing something as simple as thinking that the translation of language is all the same. It’s as simple as in Atlanta you look at the African-American community and you have different subsets of the African-American community that are very different. That’s part of the teaching that diversity is – inclusion is not about kind of what we look like.
RC:          How large of a diversity staff nationwide in all the different levels would you like to have?
KC:          What I have at National is fine for the work that we need to get done at National. To expect one person to do nine states in my opinion is unrealistic. To expect one person to do two or three states is a little challenging particularly based on how we’re now defining diversity and inclusion and what our model is. If this was a magic wand that I had whatever, I’d say having two to three people a Section that will focus on diversity. If you look at the 17 individuals that have kind of diversity or multicultural participation in their title, they also have two or three other jobs in their title.
YO:          And if I had a magic wand – no, I mean but my magic wand might be a little more possible because what Kevin has done – one of the examples of the things that he’s done, he had the entire 350. Every employee of the National staff had to go through a diversity workshop. He added diversity onto the list of responsibilities for 350 employees. You know it may not be at this point written on their job description, but he’s got them thinking about it. It’s in their mind. In Southern, we have our marketing department now that I think focuses a lot on diversity. You know we have the Atlanta Tennis Championship staff and they’re thinking about different things that they’re doing. Ideally, you wave a magic wand and diverstity is part of every job description.
RC:          There's this whole idea that it’s a country club sport, which means a white, rich population. Is that one of the things that I’m sure you deal with is the perception and not only racially but also economically?
NM:          I agree. I agree and one of the things that I use to kind of sell (to the Latino community) is I tell the parents that the kids can get some (education through tennis). For example, from the beginning they just assume that they cannot afford college for their kids. So, I say if your daughter starts playing tennis at some point when she's young, they can later get a full scholarship.
RC:          How about some of the role models? How important are they or the idea over emphasized that the Williams sisters have been so successful, or Mary Joe Fernandez is our Davis Cup captain or Rafael Nadal is our number one player in the world? Are these role models effective ways to sell the sport?
NM:          I think role models are very important. And actually I’ve been waiting for that Mexican awesome tennis player that can just break any Mexican record history in tennis. But it hasn’t happened yet, and that will help me a lot.  I hate to say it but we need a Mexican player that is going to change the perception of the Latino tennis community.
YO:          I think Venus and Serena have been amazing. I mean they’ve definitely – they’ve been amazing for the African American, for the community of color, period.
RC:          Give me some success stories.
NM:          Okay, one successful story that I have with the Latin American Association in Atlanta. When I was an intern for USTA Southern, they were having a summer camp, so I offered tennis as part of their activities. They liked the idea. We started a camp. So it was a great experience for the whole office, the first time they were approaching the Latino community, the first time that we’re like out there with the kids speaking Spanish.
RC:          How about you, Yasmine?
YO:          One of the biggest triumphs for me is something that’s happening in Mississippi. It was just kind of – it really just came from conversations with their ED and their community development coordinator. It was one of those things where I could generate little sparks of ideas about inclusion and diversity in Mississippi, which is a pretty big milestone considering it’s Jackson, the seed of the Civil Rights movement.
But I had a lot of conversations with them. " What is the population of African-American people in Jackson and then versus the population of African-American people playing tennis for the Mississippi Tennis Association? And I actually didn’t come up with that specific statistic. The Community Development director did.
RC:          Kevin, why do you think Southern is involved in diversity maybe more than some of the other Sections?
KC:          I think two things, one of which is the leadership. I can only talk about my time since being here and Rex and John have absolutely been supportive of what we’re trying to get done. I think it helps the fact that Gordon (Smith, USTA Executive Director) and Lucy (Garvin, USTA Chairman of the Board and President) obviously have Southern ties. So, absolutely the leadership is first. The second, I believe, is that it’s almost a perfect storm from the standpoint that because of the size, there’s an opportunity to maximize what I’ll just say dollars on the table that have been left.
RC:          Is the Civil Rights history in the South a component that makes it more at the forefront of people’s consciousness than in other areas?
KC:          I actually think the Civil Rights issues of the South make it a much more of a barrier because the pain and the blood and all that was shed. People don’t want to have the conversation. They don’t want to deal with it. So it’s there, but it’s not something that’s at the forefront of discussion because of the history. Whereas other places around the country, they don’t have that stigma, if you will.

YO:          We talk a lot about marketing – making it a marketing conversation rather than a diversity conversation. I use the word "inclusion" a lot rather than multicultural participation because when you say "inclusion," you can be talking about color. You can be talking about income. You can be talking about religious beliefs. You can be talking about anything, and so when you just say "inclusion" everybody kind of understands that either it’s the right thing to do ethically or it’s the right thing to do businesswise to include everybody. ... When I first started out, it was really uncomfortable. I mean people just felt attacked right away and I hadn’t even said anything about – they just saw my title and knew I was coming and said, "Oh gosh, she’s here to slap our hands because we don’t have enough black people in our tennis programs." People would literally say these things to me.
KC:          I have a question that might be interesting and that is what do you think your biggest challenge or opportunity is moving forward?
NM:          I can start. I think my biggest opportunity is the continued growth of the Latino community in the United States. That’s not going to stop and that’s going to keep growing. So I think that’s such a huge advantage.



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