Don Johnson

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Throughout the United States, the impoverished youth are denied the opportunity to succeed because they lack the inexpensive programs to keep them away from harsh realities flooding the streets. Hence, it is up to motivated individuals to make a difference by creating hope for these children. In March 2006, 65 year old Don Johnson was granted the Bay Area Jefferson Award for encouraging and promoting the betterment of society. Also known as the ‘Tennis Machine’, this tennis coach has spent the last thirty years upholding tennis within the impoverished, urban areas of San Jose as a means for the youth to escape drugs and crime. Over the years, thousands of San Jose children, some who have even succeeded at the tournament level have learned the game at one of Johnson’s programs held at the city’s parks. Tennis Coach Don Johnson is a recipient of the Jefferson Award for being able to use his own troubled history and success story as a motivation to provide kids with a future that that he struggled to have, both on and off the tennis courts.

Johnson’s enthusiasm towards helping the children of San Jose largely comes from both his experiences in Brooklyn and the steps he took towards becoming a professional tennis athlete. Johnson’s teenage years began with a bad start: he lost his dad to a drug overdose (Moody 1). Being raised in an impoverished area of Brooklyn, Johnson was denied both a satisfactory education and constant opportunities to succeed. He found tennis as an escape route from his troubled life. “It was rats and roaches and things like that, and it gave me a change to get away, away where there was green grass. Tennis gave me that, a nice dress code, beautiful clubs, smart people,” explains Johnson during a CBS5 interview (Kelly 1). Opportunities arose as he met a wealthy tennis coach who offered Don a job as an assistant in exchange for tennis lessons. Soon enough, Johnson’s success allowed him to play pro and played on tour from 1969 to 1972. (Moody 1) Furthermore, Johnson was acknowledged by the Northern California African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame and became the first African American initiated into the Northern California US Tennis Association Hall of Fame. During the interview, Johnson commented, “Tennis has been good to me. In some cases it was being black, but I say it was easy because I was the only one out there.

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