Scores of young girls wielding oversized tennis rackets and dreams of stardom filled the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center (SETLC) on Saturday, eager to get a glimpse of two women whose prowess on the courts allowed them and their family to eventually escape their crime-plagued community.
But for Venus and Serena Williams, their return to the Center had a somewhat somber purpose: the launch of the Yetunde Price Resource Center for which they have provided funding and named in honor of their slain sister.
The new addition to the pristine tennis facility located in Southeast will assist those adversely affected by community violence to identify, access and utilize support services which currently exist in Ward 8. Mayor Muriel Bowser, former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry and a host of others, including celebrities and everyday folk from the District, welcomed the Williams sisters and their family for a forum that even included some tennis training for the youth. During the day, Venus and Serena also participated in the taping of a TV special on domestic violence that addressed ways that those caught in the deadly cycle can reclaim their lives.
Yetunde Price, the elder half-sister of, and personal assistant to, the Williams sisters, lost her life at the age of 31 — the victim of a drive-by shooting on Sept. 14, 2003, at the hands of a member of the infamous and deadly Southside Crips in Compton — the California community known for gang violence and where the Williams sisters grew up.
Serena shared her thoughts with The Washington Informer, one of only a small number of media outlets invited to the opening.
“For our family, it was tragic to lose our sister but we are happy that we have made something positive out of it and can help others who have had similar painful experiences,” she said. “Family, emotions, children — there are so many things you have to go through. We’re just happy that there is now a place in this community where those seeking to move on with their lives can go. For some, it will be a means of honoring and remembering their loved ones who were victims of domestic violence.”
While growing up in Compton, an area of Los Angeles plagued with poverty, crime and social disparities, Richard Williams pushed his daughters to excel in tennis until they became the best in the world. With the same spirit that has allowed her to fight back from seemingly inevitable defeat in many tennis matches, Serena said she wants women to know that they have that same spirit to overcome.
“Sometimes, when I find myself behind in a tennis match, I push through,” she said. “I continue to fight. Similarly, whether it’s domestic abuse or the loss of a loved one, we must try to push through.”
Venus Williams said they began their non-profit organization last year in Los Angeles and now they want to spread the message about domestic violence around the globe.
“We went to educate people in this country and around the world.”
She added that returning to SETLC felt in many ways like a homecoming.
“We have a long history here and we have spent a lot of time at the Center,” Venus said. “To be part of this is bigger than anything that we can do on the tennis court. This is beyond our dreams.”
As Bowser entered the tennis center, she embraced Masters Barry who first had the vision for SETLC when the land on which it now stands formerly only yielded weeds, tufts of grass, broken glass and shattered dreams. Looking around the Center, and with the added opportunity to speak with the tennis superstars, Bowser described the community-friendly afternoon as “fantastic.”
Before his death, former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry said that “Cora” had put her life into the tennis center.
Masters Barry noted that the Williams family has been there almost from the beginning.
“Since our opening, and with the help of the Recreation Wish List Committee and many other volunteers, we have continued to grow,” she said. “And the Williams family have provided more than we can ever thank them,” she said. “They volunteer as tutors and serve as board members. It is a blessing to have them join us and to assist us in serving the youth of our community.”
The Yetunde Price Resource Centers focuses on three pillars of action: community-based case management navigation; community education that partners with schools and law enforcement and offers instruction in problem-solving and conflict resolution; and expressive arts therapy for victims and at-risk individuals whose recovery is facilitated through poetry, creative writing, music, dance and dramatic arts.
“I am proud of the Center because there are an unbelievable amount of success stories coming out of here.” Serena added, who noted that she never realized the challenges one must face in becoming a mother — or the joy that comes.
“I just love every moment of being a mom — I just love this,” she said.
WI Editor D. Kevin McNeir contributed to this article.