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In Table Tennis and Life, After School Athletics Specialist Shows Kids the Power of Their Potential

Donald Redd, Promise Academy After School Athletics Specialist

Donald Redd plays ping pong

As a kid, Donald Redd wasn’t sure what he wanted to be when he grew up. Now an adult, he’s found his answer: there doesn’t have to be just one.

Mr. Redd has been a signed recording artist, owner of Harlem’s first-ever coffee shop, and a manufacturer of African natural resources like shea butter, gold, and nuts. He’s also been an activist, inventor, and a U.S. Marine.

But perhaps he’s found no greater joy than in his latest stint: table tennis coach at Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy After School Athletics Program. In his role, the octogenarian instructor imparts lessons from his life as a globetrotting Renaissance man: try new things, don’t be afraid to fail, and most importantly, know the power of your potential. 

“I tell my kids, ‘The possibilities of who and what you can be are truly endless,’” Mr. Redd says. “‘You can do it, you just don’t know you can do it.’”

 

Dedicated to the Game

Mr. Redd is one of the many dedicated instructors at Harlem Children’s Zone’s Promise Academy After School Athletics Programs. Through these programs, our children get the support they need to meet their potential, discover their interests, and thrive in and out of school.

“Whether in this sport or in life, I want my students to find that potential and power in themselves,” he adds.

In Mr. Redd’s classes, students can challenge each other, practice with “robots” (ball-throwing machines), or go up against the teacher himself. Playing with him can be intimidating. But what better way of upping up your game than by going one-on-one with a ping pong prodigy?

Thinking Outside the Box

Born into a musical family in the Bronx, Mr. Redd discovered a new talent or hustle in nearly every stage of his life. As a clever young 12-year-old, he started his first business — a shoeshine box downtown that earned him pockets full of quarters.

As a student in high school in 1955, Mr. Redd released music on MGM Records as a member of a popular teen quartet. And, as a member of the YMCA in the Bronx, he discovered yet another talent — table tennis — a game he continued playing while he served in the U.S. Marines.

“People try to put you in a box, but life is so much more than that,” he says. “You have to keep learning and improving yourself.”

 

Opening Harlem’s First Coffee Shop

When Mr. Redd returned from military service, he made his mark as an entrepreneur. In 1965, he became co-owner of The Truth, reportedly the first coffee shop in Harlem. Known for its fresh, imported coffee from the Black diaspora, the shop became a trendy gathering place for sharp-dressed Harlemites. It’s hard to fathom living in the Civil Rights era, let alone starting a business in Harlem at that time. But, then, many aren’t as cool as Mr. Redd.

To top it off, Mr. Redd spent many years living in Liberia and Sierra Leone, working in the trade of raw African materials. While living in Africa, he continued to sharpen his table tennis skills, even earning certification to represent Sierra Leone at the Olympics.

 

Never Stop Growing

Today, Mr. Redd is (mostly) retired, his life as a musician, entrepreneur, et al in the rearview. But that hasn’t stopped him from growing. He his job as an after school athletics specialist — and his students — to thank for that.

“Working with the kids every day has developed me as a person because there is no one size fits all,” he says. “Teaching is a challenge, and I always like a challenge.”

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