Serena Williams in 2013. Photo by Edwin Martinez (Creative Commons).
I have an unusual thing in common with tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams: The sudden death of an older sister. In 2001, my beloved sister Cathy Brakefield died as a result of a botched gastric bypass operation. The shock and mourning when a sibling dies never really goes away. I eventually found a quiet compartment in my heart to cope with the unthinkable tragedy one day at a time. Outwardly, I dealt with my grief by turning to my eternal friend: writing.
Countless friends and family members still miss Cathy, but news of my sister’s death did not instantly make headlines around the world. On September 14, 2003, Yetunde Price, Venus and Serena’s eldest sister and companion on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour, was shot and killed by a reputed gang member when she and her boyfriend were driving in Compton, not far from where the sisters learned to dominate the game.
Thirteen years later, Venus and Serena have returned to Compton, a place Venus says “we carry with us every where around the world we go,” with a special purpose.
This month, the Williams sisters established the Yetunde Price Resource Center in Compton to assist individuals and families adversely affected by community violence. The center will help people identify, access, and utilize vital community support services. According to the sisters, an on-site case manager will perform comprehensive needs assessments and work with individuals to remove barriers to essential resources and enhance emotional, physical, and financial health. “Our lives have always been about health,” Venus said during a promotional event at the Martin Luther King Center Plaza in Compton on November 12. “Health means many different things: your body, wellness, and mental well being. Venus added the Yetunde Price Resource Center will officially be open in December. And although the mostly Black crowd was somewhat subdued—the disappointing results of the presidential election fresh in our minds-we cheered the news of the arrival of the much needed community facility.
Despite the brilliance and resilience the city has produced, as a teacher working in Compton, I hear about random acts of violence committed on nearly a daily basis. So far in 2016, the murder rate in Compton has tripled. Often, it takes sheer courage and determination for my students to get safely to the college campus to fulfil their dreams. Ordinary in extraordinary ways, the Williams sisters are like some students in my classes: homegirls from the block, determined to succeed despite being shattered by the senseless murder of someone they love in a place they call home.
Jehovah’s Witnesses by faith, the sisters do not talk publicly of politics; their religion teaches political neutrality. Recently, though, Serena declared she will now speak out against social injustice. In a Facebook post, Serena revealed her emotional evolution:
“I am a total believer that not ‘everyone’ is bad. It is just the ones that are ignorant, afraid, uneducated, and insensitive that is affecting millions and millions of lives. Why did I have to think about this in 2016? Have we not gone through enough, opened so many doors, impacted billions of lives? But I realized we must stride on—for it’s not how far we have come but how much further still we have to go. I than wondered than have I spoken up? I had to take a look at me. What about my nephews? What if I have a son and what about my daughters? As Dr. Martin Luther King said ‘There comes a time when silence is betrayal.’ I won’t be silent.”
• • •
I attended St. Lucy grade school in Long Beach, just down Santa Fe Avenue, nearby where neighborhood residents remember seeing Richard Williams practicing with his daughters in the park. I had never before seen beaded braids on a tennis court until the local sports sections began featuring Venus’s big match triumphs when she was just 15 years old. Her hairstyle was a welcome sign of ethnic pride, as was her fearless attitude, and they were a constant reminder to the media: “We are from Compton and it’s in our hearts.”
Now, Venus and Serena have revolutionized the sport with rocket serves, laser-precise forehands, and a reputation for playing their best when their backs are against the wall. But as Yetunde’s death makes clear, stellar career achievements are no guarantee against those with dark and careless hearts who seek to cause pain and destroy lives. The Williams sisters, like many who call Compton home, are testaments to the fact that when irredeemable loss happens, healing can occur with a positive vision for the community.
For more information about the Yetunde Price Resource Center, email email@example.com.
13 Comments Have Been Posted
C.Fleming replied on
Thank you Venus and Serena for never forgetting your hometown. Thank you Ms. Robyn McGee for this great article and your continous fight to bring awareness to our community.
Serena and Venus!!!!
Patricia Torres replied on
I think it's amazing and so good to see famous athletes like the William sisters not forget where they came from, and most of all help contribute to the community so it can thrive!!!!! It makes me feel very proud and I hope they continue to use their celebrity platform to bring awareness.
Gabriela Perez replied on
Great article!I completely agree, thank you for the continued interest in our community.
"We are from Compton"
TracyJones replied on
Loved the article. Glad to see the Williams sisters providing resources to the community, This is awesome.
Loved the Article
Tjones replied on
Thank you for this awesome article Ms. McGee. Glad to see more positive resources being brought to the community, this time by the Williams sisters.
“We are From Compton and It’s in Our Hearts.”
Brenda Vargas replied on
As reading this article, I felt very emotional Ms. McGee I understand and feel your pain on how hard it is to loose a loved one. And I want to say you are a brave and smart women for sharing this article with us. There is not a lot of noble people on this earth who have the courage enough to care for the well being of others and that is what makes you special. Thank you for caring about your students, and our community I believe in this world we need more caring people like you. I think it is also very exciting and helpful the Williams sisters established the Yetunde Price Resource Center in Compton to assist individuals and families adversely affected by community violence. I am sure it will make a major difference in the community as well as help many.
I'm a huge fan.
William Wilks replied on
I just want to say I read the book, Hungry for More and it enlightened me about the struggles women go through to try to look the way society wants them to. As a man I was hesitant to read the book because I thought it was a women's book but I really enjoyed reading it. This article also taught me something about the Williams sisters because I didn't know they had a older sister that died. Also I wasn't aware that they were Jehovah's Witnesses. Great article you continue to inform me.
Love for the hood
Lisa jones replied on
Thank you, Professor McGee for bringing this article alive on to social media blog. Awareness is the key, more people need to know that good people come out of Compton and few bad apples won't keep us down. As Compton readers , read this article or in any City that have been stricken with violence and Mayham in their community will know that there is a way out... just keep striving, and going to school, and studying hard. Despite the obstacles, your day will come... I too was raised in Compton and turned around and raise three boys here in the city of Compton... Grew up to be great men's in their own right. They are given back to their communities that as also been stricken with violences....keep the fight up by bringing awareness to our community....
Great article. Reminds us not
Sally Chavez-Zavala replied on
Great article. Reminds us not to forget our roots and where we come from.
I agree that this center is
Gabriela Perez replied on
I agree that this center is amazing because many of us have experienced a loss to gun violence.“I am a total believer that not ‘everyone’ is bad. It is just the ones that are ignorant, afraid, uneducated, and insensitive that is affecting millions and millions of lives." Professor McGee, your awareness in diverse topics like the things going around in our community and around the world are greatly appreciated. Great article.
A. Cortez replied on
Thank you for this amazing article Ms. Robyn McGee!
Yenny replied on
Amazing that women like these two never forget where they come from and contribute to the community that watched them grow and fulfill their dreams! Awesome article Ms. McGee!
Charon Scott replied on
Very well stated Ms. McGee. #Compton #HubCity a city set on a hill. Thank you Venus and Serena for giving the community a resource. Glory be to God.
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