By Micha Green
AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor
[email protected]

In 1994, First Lady Cora Masters Barry thought it would be a good idea to provide opportunities for students in D.C. to have further recreational and educational facilities- that epiphany turned into the Recreation Wish List Committee (RWLC), which spawned into the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center (SETLC).  Twenty-five years later, the RWLC has a great deal to celebrate as SETLC has found a great deal of success, expansion and trained students, many of whom are worth bragging about.

“It’s been a miracle that 25 years ago we did something quite spontaneous, to just help out,” Barry, founder of the RWLC and CEO of SETLC told the AFRO.  “From that to this $25 million building (SETLC) that’s sitting here, as well as all of the success stories of the young people who have come through here, who have gone through college on a tennis scholarship, full ride, never had to pay a penny of tuition.  Even though at the end of their academic career, none of them went into professional tennis careers, they went into law, or education, or business.”

Former First Lady Cora Masters Barry, the Recreation Wish List Committee and Southeast Tennis and Learning Center are celebrating 25 years of providing more opportunities for D.C. youth. (Courtesy Photo)

Since the inception of RWLC in the early 90s, there have been so many changes and achievements and on Nov. 2, there will be a celebration to mark some of these milestones and look forward to the future.  The event, called, “25 and Still We Thrive… Transforming Children’s Lives,” will be held at SETLC, 701 Mississippi Avenue S.E., and the theme is “Tennis Shoes, Ties and After Five.”

“When you see the invitation and it says ’25 and Still We Thrive… Transforming Children’s Lives’ – that is the basic mission and goal of the Recreation Wish List Committee and has manifested to the growth and success of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center,” Barry said.

The evolution of RWLC and SETLC has been grand over the past 25 years, significantly because of Barry’s passion, but also due to collaborating with the company she keeps.

“The organization was founded out of the inaugural fund of my husband’s last term as mayor (affectionately called ‘Mayor for Life’, Marian Barry served 1979-1991 and 1995-1999),” she said.  “The people who joined on the Wish List Committee came as a result of working with the inauguration. We partnered with the Department of Recreation to improve and enhance the field of recreational and education opportunities facilities across the city.  One of our major projects was the decision to build tennis courts on Mississippi Avenue S.E., that eventually morphed into the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center,” she explained.

She also considered the other politicians and members of her network, who have been essential in the success of the organization.

“We have so many officials who have been integral to the work we’re doing here and our growth and development,” Barry told the AFRO. “Tony Williams (former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, 1999-2007), and of course my husband, and then there’s Vincent Gray (former D.C. mayor 2011-2015), who gave us $18 million to do a renovation of the center, and then we have Mayor Bowser who has come and supported every activity we’ve had.  And she has designated $13 million for expansion, and as we do that, we serve the children in our community, but also the D.M.V.”

To this day, RWLC and SETLC are making a difference in children’s lives.

“Right now we have five kids that are scheduled to gradate from high school this year, and each and every one of them have been offered tennis scholarships so their parents don’t have to pay for their education,” Barry said.

Because of the success of their programming and students, RWLC and SETLC have a lot to celebrate.

“I think the Recreation Wish List Committee has been important to the city, and that’s why the celebration is pertinent, because the evolution of the founding of the Recreation Wish List Committee.  The evolution of it is directly related to the growth and activities of the city,” she said.

With the event’s honorary co-chairs being tennis sensations Venus and Serena Williams, guests who attend the Nov. 2 celebration are in for a great evening. 

“We’re going to have a good time,” she said. “It is going to be beautiful, it is going to be fun-filled.  The food is going to be very different and very good. The music- we’ve got three different kinds of entertainment.  We have karaoke, we have photo booths, and we have dancing and presentations by the kids.”

The musical lineup is star-studded with the former lead singer for the Platters Joe Coleman and former Drifters lead singer Joe Blunt, Mary McBride Band and Sirius Company, who will be performing hits from the Godfather of GoGo Chuck Brown.

In addition to providing excitement for the evening, RWLC and SETLC are also taking a moment to honor area leaders.

District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser will receive the RWLC Humanitarian Award, and basketball icon, CEO and Chairman of Isiah International, Isiah Thomas III, will receive the RWLC Legends Award.

From this event, and other RWLC and SETLC ventures, Barry told the AFRO, she hopes to see the organization expand.

“I would like to see us expand and I’d like to see the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center become a national academy,” she said.  “I want [all of our students] to be able to have a life full of potential.”

For more information or to attend the “25 and Still We Thrive… Transforming Children’s Lives: Tennis Shoes, Ties and After Five,” event on Nov. 2, visit https://www.rwlccelebration.org.