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

In recent weeks, there have been headlines about violence, particularly affecting young people, in the District’s Ward 8.

Despite the violence and crime facing the ward, there are a lot of wonderful strides happening in order to improve the neighborhoods and the lives of its residents, including the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center (SETLC) on Mississippi Avenue SE.

Former First Lady of D.C. and SETLC founder and CEO Cora Masters Barry with students in their Blacks in Wax costumes portraying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Erykah Badu. (Courtesy Photo)

“We’re saving these kids lives, literally,” Cora Masters Barry said, wife of former mayor Marion Barry and founder and CEO of the SETLC.

In the beginning Barry simply wanted to give students a strong outlet and exposure to tennis in order to open the doors for more opportunities.  Yet, the former first lady quickly realized that the children coming to the center needed more than tennis.

Through her educational approach of providing various resources for the tennis students, Barry hopes the center builds young people who are “multi-dimensional”, as she calls it.

SETLC’s programming is “to develop multidimensional young people to give them a trajectory in life,” Barry told the AFRO. “You have to some skills and some education. Not tennis dummies.”

In the program, students undergo intense tennis training, reading encouragement and coaching, computer literacy work, robotics and even sewing.

Barry emphasized further that it was important for young Black students to have a multidimensional education.

Other than its state-of-the-art tennis facilities and trainings, SETLC boasts Hollywood costume designer Janice Rankins as the Program Director for Sew N Know, which has become an official Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) program and is even offered as a paid opportunity through the Summer Youth Employment Program.

“They go from not knowing how to thread a needle to designing their own costume,” Rankins told the AFRO. “They feel very empowered if they come in here and learn how to sew.”

Raji Rankins, Executive Director of Sewing Opportunity Never Ending, said that the Sew N Know program “builds creativity, confidence and skills to lead to self sustainability.”

Students get to showcase the professional designs of Janice Rankins in the Blacks in Wax performance highlighting various African American leaders and heroes, which is performed at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage.

Always aiming to be current and educational, this year’s theme is an homage to the successful, youth-led, March For Our Lives, which was held on March 24 in response to the shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 students and teachers and other violent gun rampages.

For more information about the Sew N Know program, contact (202) 904-5282 or [email protected].