Leadership learned on the tennis court

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Frankie Lee

Guest Writer


Leaders don’t look like me. When I was younger, I noticed on mainstream shows and Hollywood movies that the protagonist was never Asian. Just like how there are no Asian superheroes in the Avengers. This made me believe that people like me were not supposed to lead—were not destined to lead.

I wasn’t born into an upper-class family with influence. My mother and father were refugees that fled from the Hmong genocide in Laos—the most bombed country in the world. And I was born in a place where your zip code determined your health, food availability and education.

I’ve been involved with St. Paul Urban Tennis (SPUT) for nine years. Tennis is more than a sport. It is a vehicle that can be used to combat poverty and battle adversity.

Metro State student and St. Paul Urban Tennis coach Frankie Lee puts in practice time on the tennis court.
Photo by Brian Yang

Every day gets harder for working families like mine to get by. As a result, working-class families become less likely to participate in extracurricular activities.

It’s clear that St. Paul needs initiatives focusing on youth development, programs that emphasize the importance of afterschool and summer activities, and agendas that teach children that their background does not define their destiny.

SPUT achieves just this. SPUT strengthens the communities around it by empowering youth to live up to their fullest potential. As a former participant, SPUT has taught me many things. For example, to focus on the things that are in my control—like my punctuality, fitness, or intensity of practice—and worry less about what is out of my control, such as the attitude of an opponent.

Tennis, like life, is a battle of one’s mind. It’s a decision game, a game of choices.

I refuse to lose to my financial, educational and social circumstances. I won’t allow my income, background, or lack of access to mentors and professionals, to limit my ability to excel. My name is Frankie Lee and I am a SPUT coach. Through SPUT, I can show the world that leaders do look like me.

Lee is a computer science major at Metro State. He is a graduate of Harding High School in St. Paul where he played varsity tennis for three years.  

Editor’s note: Lee delivered this speech at the St. Paul Urban Tennis (SPUT) benefit luncheon Sept. 26, 2018. He wishes to thank SPUT intern Brian Yang for his assistance developing the speech. SPUT is a nonprofit organization that teaches tennis and life skills to young people.