AJ Tennis Academy International: Building a Better World Through Tennis
At AJ Tennis Academy International (www.ajtennisacademy.com) we aspire to empower children through tennis to teach 3Cs: Curiosity about the world; Concern for the world; and Confidence to change the world. In the parlance of tennis coaching, we want to engage the eyes, minds, feet and hands of the next generation: Eyes, to see the world; Minds, to engage the world; Feet, to go to the world; and Hands, to change the world.
To paraphrase Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, our burning desire at AJTAI is to bend, ever so slightly favorably, the arc of destiny for 1…10 …100 …1,000 …10,000 … 100,000 … kids around the world, using tennis and education. So many of us have been tremendously blessed with opportunities and an environment that has allowed us to reach for our potential. We seek to give to others a token of this opportunity, especially underprivileged children in domestically and internationally. We believe in the power of tennis (sports) as a strong catalyst for creating opportunities.
The power of sport to spur kids to academic excellence, creativity and community engagement is well researched and documented. Tennis, as a largely individual sport, encourages strategic thinking (develop a game plan), problem solving (tackle opponent’s evolving game plan), and camaraderie (symbolized by the shaking of hands after a match). We will partner with various schools in each community to provide after-school programs around tennis and extra-curricular activities, such as critical and creative thinking.
While our gaze is global, our sights are set locally. We aim to begin our tennis academy program here in Minnesota, by partnering with various public schools and organizations to provide tennis clinics paired with mentoring and educational symposia.
It was a late summer evening in 2006 and Justin Jennings, who had just moved from New York City, found himself sitting alone in a bar in the Uptown area of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Sitting alone a few seats away was Tolu Adeleye, who, too, had recently moved to Minneapolis from NYC. They struck up a conversation and immediately found they shared a strong common interest: how to make a difference in the world.
While thinking globally was natural for Justin and Tolu, what was highly unlikely was how they met. Justin, who was born and raised in New Zealand, had just found himself in Minneapolis, to work as a tennis coach with Lifetime Fitness. Justin had spent time in various parts of Europe, Australia and NYC, as a tennis coach, before moving to Minneapolis. Born in Washington DC, Tolu had landed in Minneapolis to work in strategy and business development, after spending time in NYC, Boston, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, Connecticut, Baltimore and Nigeria (where he attended boarding school). Between them, Justin and Tolu have lived, visited, studied and worked in over 120 countries!
Justin and Tolu bonded over their strong common interest, spending time together every Friday evening discussing how to make a difference in the world over mussels and sushi. This went on for several months, but it wasn’t until several years later, after Tolu had picked up playing recreational tennis, that the idea struck: combine education with tennis to teach underprivileged kids in developing countries how to make a positive impact in their world.
Together with four very capable friends (and board of directors): Christina Gonzaga (physician and tennis enthusiast); Jim Lutz (Lecturer of Architecture at the University of Minnesota); Jeff Milkie (investment banker and former college athlete); and Seema Gupta (medical device marketing expert and passionate tennis player), we formed AJ Tennis Academy International in August 2015 as a nonprofit organization. We were granted tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service in April 2016.
We are currently raising funds with hopes of beginning the construction of an academy in Nigeria. We are excited to bring this promising idea to fruition. We are eager to see young minds embrace tennis, become more informed about their world, and see the trajectory of their lives (and the lives of those around them) change positively.