Serena and Venus Williams

Black History Month is an important time to remember important figures and events in the history of African diaspora, whilst recognising the significance and change those have created.  Without awareness of the past we cannot be thankful for the present, or hopeful for the future.

Serena and Venus Williams, the famous tennis power duo, grew up in Compton, California. As children, playing on littered courts often without a net, they were trained and encouraged intensely by their father, who was a self-taught player using manuals and videos. From working their way up from the bottom, they have flourished into the two arguably greatest players in the sport’s history. 

Making their debut on the tennis scene in the 1990s, Serena claimed her first US Open title in 1999 at the young age of 17, with her sister following a year later, winning the Open in both 2000 and 2001. Both sisters have been invaluable in gaining role model status, inspiring others to get involved with the sport. They help inspire diversity in tennis - crowds of kids waited by the fence for autographs as Venus challenged Sachia Vickery at the US Open, and 23 year old African-American and former top-ranked junior player Vickery spoke out: “That was actually an experience of a lifetime for me, so I’m still in shock a little bit” after playing her tennis idol.

Stats tell us that many more American kids of diverse ethnic backgrounds are taking part in youth programs whilst often citing the Williams sisters as their reason for taking up the sport. “There’s certainly more diverse activity from an ethnic standpoint since they came on the scene” says D.A. Abrams, chief diversity and inclusion officer for the US Tennis Association.

Not only conquering stereotypes inflicted upon them about women being less able or talented within the sports industry, they have worked incredibly hard to raise media awareness and attention with regards to the gender pay gap AND the ethnicity gap. Serena has been extremely vocal about the rights black women should have in regards to the gap: black women earn 17% less than their white female counterparts, and 63% of evert dollar men are paid “we need females supporting it, and men advocating for it,” she discusses about pay discrepancies. 

Serena has spoken out confidently about body image, inspiring especially young girls to accept and embrace all body types: “It’s who I am, and I want people to be proud of who they are” “Too many times young women are told that they’re not good enough or they don’t look good enough, or they shouldn’t do this, or they shouldn’t look like that. Really there’s no one who should judge that except for you”.

“People are entitled to have their opinions, but what matters most is how I feel about me” “You have to love you, and if you don’t love you, no one else will. And if you do love you, people will see that, and they’ll love you too”. Something we all need to get behind.

So not only have they climbed their way up to the top of the tennis ladder gaining worldwide recognition, smashing through every glass ceiling in their career, they are role models for younger aspiring tennis players, and all round positivity and gender equity advocates. 

Boss ladies and legends.