Tennis World Champions and sisters, Venus and Serena Williams have dominated the game since they arrived on the scene over two decades ago. Combined, Venus, currently ranked 19th in the world, and Serena, currently 1st in the world, have earned 55 Grand Slam titles. And at the ages of 34 and 33, Venus nor Serena show any signs of stopping anytime soon.
Last Friday, I attended the grand re-opening of the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Washington, DC. The 48,000 square foot facility recently completed an $18 million renovation, spearheaded by the center’s founder Cora Masters Barry, a longtime friendly friend of the Williams family. The center, which was renamed Williams Arena, includes 13 tennis courts in total – six indoor and seven outdoor courts — one of which is clay.
As products of Compton, CA, the Williams Sisters are able to connect with the youth of Washington, DC. Inner city communities and the youth who inhabit neighborhoods such as Southeast, DC are near and dear to them. They’re not only familiar with the challenges that these children must face each day, but more importantly, they’re fine examples of what’s required to overcome said challenges.
I asked Venus and Serena their greatest hope for the children who have the privilege of playing at their tennis center. A priority for Serena was to have the children focus on education. She said, “not only being the greatest athlete, the greatest tennis player, or the greatest whatever you want to be, but also having a very, very intelligent mind. It goes really far.” And Venus wanted the children to understand the importance of giving back. “For me, it’s for the children to do such positive things in their life and be able to give back as well. I’d like them to live happy and productive lives and give back through sport,” said Venus. The sisters also shared they hope to open additional tennis facilities in other states. Florida is next on their hit list.
But before I had the opportunity to talk to the sisters, the night commenced with a ribbon cutting ceremony that was attended by Venus and Serena, Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Mayor-Elect Muriel Boswer, the founder of SETLC Cora Masters Barry, Katrina Adams, and many others. Following the ribbon cutting was a mural unveiling. It was also during this time that everyone in attendance had an opportunity to marvel at the beautiful interior, which was designed by Venus’s boutique interior design company, V Starr Interiors. All throughout the educational and athletic wings are brightly painted walls and inspiring quotes from accomplished African Americans. For example, a notable quote from Muhammad Ali says, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.'” And finally, the evening concluded with the “Tennis Shoes, Ties and After Five” gala hosted by CBS Sports’ James “JB” Brown. Honorees included: Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Mr. Bill McSweeny, Ms. Pauline Schneider, Mr. Reginald Van Lee, and Ms. Nina May. Keeping with the theme, guests were encouraged to where tennis shoes with their formal attire, as they ate, drank, and danced the night away. It was a cute touch.
Check out the video below to get a peek at Williams Arena, hear what Venus had to say about the center, and watch a couple of interviews with CBS Sports’ James Brown and Katrina Adams, the incoming president of the United States Tennis Association and co-host of CBS Sports’ talk show “We Need To Talk.”
As you can see from the video, it was a great event. Venus and Serena are more than deserving of this tremendous honor. And to top things off, Williams Arena is now eligible to host U.S. Tennis Association tournaments and other competitions. George Washington University has already committed to hosting its men’s and women’s home Atlantic 10 conference tennis matches there. After initially opening in 2001, the center has served over 10,000 youth and sent over 30 students and tennis scholars to college. Thanks to the renovations, the tennis center can continue to serve its community and expand its legacy.
Special thanks to my best friend and assistant for the day, Nneka; and also a special thanks to Napolean for shooting and editing the video. I appreciate you both for helping me capture this wonderful occasion.