S. Mitra Kalita here, co-founder of URL Media and publisher of Epicenter-NYC.
Photo by Nitin Mukul
The cheers at the U.S. Open earlier this week for 19-year-old Leylah Fernandez are still ringing in my ears not just because they pierced the elite, polite sport of tennis but because they did so en español. Another remarkable sight in the stadium: the Filipina-Ecuadorian-Canadian-Peruvian rooting section of family, friends and coaches, all crammed into a box, visibly Brown and immigrant and loud and proud.
Every time Leylah scored, they were on their feet, and soon, so were all of us fortunate enough to watch history being made. To get to Saturday’s final—a match against Emma Raducanu, the British 18-year-old born to a Romanian father and Chinese mother—Fernandez had to beat three top-5 players, which hasn’t happened since Serena Williams in 1999.
It’s been a week of looking back in order to look forward. Twenty years ago, I was living in a studio apartment in Queens and had a Tuesday morning dentist appointment. It was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. I was already in the chair when the hygienist put the TV on after hearing there had been a second attack on the World Trade Center. I ran out to begin reporting and didn't have to go far. Bangladeshi butchers and shopkeepers were closing shop in fear of revenge attacks. They were not overreacting: anti-Islamic sentiment set the seeds for the anti-immigrant rhetoric that became official U.S. policy.
Once, I was trying to explain what it was like to be a reporter on and after Sept. 11, 2001 and I told my friend: "We thought there'd never be another story we cover. It felt like this day would basically be the rest of my career."
To that, she said, "Well, hasn't it been?"
(You can read some other New Yorkers’ recollections of 9/11 here.) Before launching Epicenter and URL, I spent two decades in the mainstream media in the middle of every major news event of the 21st century so far: the Great Recession, immigration, globalization, terror attacks, school shootings, the election of our first Black president, extreme weather and climate change, racial reckonings (or the promise of them), and, of course, the Trump years.
Which makes Fernandez, her family and all the Black and Brown power on display at the U.S. Open all the more uplifting. The theme of this year also happens to be “Be Open,” a commitment to racial justice, diversity and inclusion that tennis’ fans and players have been demanding. The U.S. Tennis Association partnered with Black-owned businesses for the program.
Putting money behind the message feels key. Check out an extensive report by my fellow Assamese-American journalist Madhusmita Bora. In our latest work for Lively-HOOD, she lists the billions pledged by big banks to advance racial equality and economic opportunity for communities of color over the next few years. So, one year after that pledge, where are we now?
“The problem that I have is that the money hasn’t reached our communities,” said Jamie Lee Storms Jr., owner of Lee Jr. Entertainment, a Philadelphia event management company. “That’s a huge concern of mine. If they are giving to people, where is it going? How is it being allocated? Who is using the money?”
We’ll keep following the story—and the money.