July 12, 2012
By Kenneth Miller
LAWT Contributing Writer
Tennis sensation Serena Williams recently captured her remarkable 14th grand slam event winning Wimbledon at the prestigious All England Club months shy of her 31st birthday.
Elegantly dressed in her white Nike dress with royal purple, Serena was fit to be queen after her smashing three set victory that left many wondering what’s next on the Williams agenda. After capturing the singles crown she joined with her sister Venus to double-up at Wimbledon adding the women’s doubles championship.
Having met both the tennis prodigies when they were 9 and 10 years old, respectively, and even moving to Palm Beach, FL and residing with them for a short period I can reflect on this from rags to riches story with real introspective.
As the legacy of Serena and her older sister Venus continues to grow with their celebrity the distance from whence it all began fades into a shallow backdrop of what used to be the asphalt tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez Park in Compton.
It was the City of Compton, the birthplace of rap---Eazy E and Dr. Dre. , that gave the Williams’ story, the sexy swagger that made them appealing on a global stage.
It was the crazy idea of an over protecting father Richard who wanted more for his daughters than himself, who first envisioned fame and fortune for the only children he had with former wife Oracene Price.
Richard understood the significance of raising both Serena and Venus in the hood and while many of the stories have been exaggerated about bullets flying through the air while they practiced, anyone who resides in Compton or any urban neighborhood will agree it has its challenges. For some they are insurmountable.
Had both Serena and Venus been the daughters of two upper or middle class parents living in the suburbs their stories would not have been the attraction that it has become.
Serena was born in Michigan, Venus in Lynwood, but Compton was where their home was. Compton was where they lived and practiced until subsequently they moved to Palm Beach FL.
Surely you always hear about people in the neighborhood can’t wait to get out, and often when they do, they don’t come back.
The Williams story was not expected to be that way. Even after Richard moved the family to Palm Beach he had a huge sign on the tennis courts that proclaimed him the “King of Compton.”
This was an indication that he had not forgot where he came from and also wanted to remind his daughters that they should not forget.
For a long time they publicly embraced their Compton experience. There was to be annual tennis clinics in their name, monuments and parks named for them. There was to be hope that tennis was a unique alternative to rap music, basketball and football for other Black girls and boys in Compton.
Residents and elected officials hoped for the best, even as Serena and Venus resided on their massive estate in Palm Beach thousands of miles away.
Hope does not always spring eternal. As Serena and Venus grew older and their fame evolved, but Richard and Oracene grew apart. Eventually they divorced. Both would retain a percentage of the tennis-playing daughters with, Richard managing Venus and Oracene got Serena.
It has been almost 20 years and $200 million, since the girls called Compton their home. Now, they’re just from Palm Beach FL.
It is an irony that is not lost on many who knew the family and wanted the Compton association to remain a staple in their famous careers.
Compton Mayor Eric Perrodin personally reached out to the family to invite them back and wanted to name a park after them, but got no response.
Last Saturday, when Serena won she immediately went into the stands to share her joy with her sisters including Venus, father Richard, mother Oracene and friends, but there was one sister who was not there.
Older sister Yetunde Price was 31 when she was slain on September 14, 2003 in the Compton while awaiting a companion sitting in her SUV.
It is her murder that has created a monumental rift between the family and the city of Compton.
It was Serena who spoke on behalf of the family at the sentencing of suspected gang member Edward Maxfield when he was sent to prison for 15-years for the murder in 2006.
“I wasn’t going to speak today because it’s too hard for me to talk, “Serena said during the proceedings. “I wanted to let you know that this was unfair to our family, and our family has always been positive and we always try to help people.”
Those emotional words, voiced by Serena, the youngest of the children, reverberates even loudest today as the once prodigies approach the dawn of their illustrious tennis careers.
It is the darkest of clouds such as this that blocks the sun from shining through. It will soon be 8 years since Yetunde was murdered. The fact that she lost her life in the same community where the life of her famous siblings began is the irony of it.
Now, Serena is approaching the age that Yetunde did not get to live out. Last year a health scare reminded her just how fragile life can be. She survived to win yet another tournament for the world to see.
The city of Compton is waiting, with open arms to embrace Serena with love for the hope she gave them.