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Serena recalls racial discrimination in heartfelt essay for black women’s equal payday



•Williams sisters donate $1m to planned Miramar tennis complex

Serena Williams has marked black women’s equal pay day (July 31) with a poignant essay recounting her own struggles in the workplace. The tennis champion has written an op-ed for Fortune magazine in which she encourages other women to keep pushing for change so they can “change the story,” reports

Williams, 35, opens the essay by noting, “the gender pay gap hits women of colour the hardest”. According to her stats, for every dollar a male worker earns, black women make 63 cents. Black women also have to work eight months longer to earn as much as men do in a year, while the gap is just as prominent in tech hub Silicon Valley as it is elsewhere.

Relating her own struggles, Williams, who is pregnant with her first child, explains: “Growing up, I was told I couldn’t accomplish my dreams because I was a woman and, more so, because of the colour of my skin. In every stage of my life, I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself and speak out.

“I have been treated unfairly, I’ve been disrespected by my male colleagues and – in the most painful times – I’ve been the subject of racist remarks on and off the tennis court. Luckily, I am blessed with an inner drive and a support system of family and friends that encourage me to move forward. But these injustices still hurt.”

Some of the racial and gender discrimination, which Williams has been subjected to, has been well-documented in the media – in April, former tennis player, Ilie Nastase came under fire for saying: “Let’s see what colour it has. Chocolate with milk?” regarding Williams’ unborn child whom she is expecting with fiancé, Alexis Ohanian.

Two months later, former Wimbledon champion, John McEnroe said Williams was the best female tennis player of all time but not the world’s greatest, claiming she would struggle in male championships.

Despite her own battles within her profession, Williams admits she is in a privileged platform compared to millions of other women. The sports star said: “I am in the rare position to be financially successful beyond my imagination. I had talent, I worked like crazy and I was lucky enough to break through. But today isn’t about me. It’s about the other 24 million black women in America. If I never picked up a tennis racket, I would be one of them; that is never lost on me.”

Williams continues: “The cycles of poverty, discrimination, and sexism are much, much harder to break than the record for Grand Slam titles… I want to bring my perspective and experiences as an athlete, an entrepreneur and a black woman to the boardroom and help create a more inclusive environment in this white, male-dominated industry.”

Concluding the impassioned letter, Williams urges: “Black women: Be fearless. Speak out for equal pay. Every time you do, you’re making it a little easier for a woman behind you. Most of all, know that you’re worth it. It can take a long time to realize that. It took me a long time to realise it. But we are all worth it. I’ve long said, “You have to believe in yourself when no one else does.”

Meanwhile, plans are still being formed for a tennis facility that would showcase the sport’s black stars, but already its founders have scored a big win, reports

Venus and Serena Williams, two of the sport’s most prominent athletes, have pledged to donate $1 million toward the 26-court complex and museum that will be built at Miramar Regional Park.

The family did not return calls seeking comment, but their donation includes the right to name the center court after their father, Richard Williams, who started coaching his daughters when they were only four and guided their careers.

“One of the things that will be emphasized at this center is identifying local talent and helping those youth connect to proper training and guidance so that they can continue at the next level,” said

The American Tennis Association’s Tennis and Education Complex will include exhibitions on the sport’s history and black athletes. It will have clay and hard-surface courts, a clubhouse with locker rooms, and treatment and fitness areas.

There is also a plan to build a $15 million hotel on four acres near the complex, but that project must get county approval and the funding would be separate.

In addition, the association plans to move its offices to the center and hold its national championship there. The week-long tournament, which is now held in Baltimore, features seminars and guest appearances and is estimated to bring in at least $2.4 million annually in revenue for local businesses. That money would be in addition to other events at the center that would bring in an estimated $2.6 million more.

“We are excited about this project and will continue to work with the organizers to make it a world-class tennis center,” said Miramar Mayor, Wayne Messam.

The complex could be completed as early as 2020, depending on how quickly the association can raise the entire $6.6 million cost. Last November, the city commission approved a “memorandum of understanding” of the association’s plans, and the city recently completed filing the necessary paperwork with the county to clear the way for the fundraising phase.

Organizers say the complex should spark more interest in the sport among minorities. Tennis has been stigmatized as being an elitist sport in many minority communities, but that is changing as more stars of color, like the Williams sisters and James Blake, have reached the top.

The American Tennis Association was created a century ago after blacks were barred from participating in the country’s largest organized lawn tennis association.

The organization is accepting donations large and small to reach its goal. Anyone can buy a paving brick and have their name etched on it, said Tucker, who is working with the United States Tennis Association, the ATA and Miramar officials on the project.

Tucker said the accomplishments of the Williams sisters, as well as such trailblazers as Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe, will figure prominently in the museum.

Because tennis can be quite costly, the center’s instructors will offer free lessons and free court time, Tucker said. And the center’s tennis pros will routinely travel to east Miramar to offer instructions to neighborhood children.

Tom Mar, who has taught tennis in Pembroke Pines and Miramar for almost four decades, estimated that a promising young athlete aiming to become a professional would have to pay at least $10,000 annually for lessons, tournaments and equipment.

“Tennis has gotten so weak in the U.S. because the training has become so expensive. In countries like Russia, the government pays athletes training expenses, and that’s why they’ve risen so dramatically in recent years,” said Mar, who runs tennis at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines.

A majority of the tennis scholarships that are handed out by historically black colleges and universities are given to budding players of color from other countries, Tucker said.

Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens is working to add tennis to its list of sports and has a tentative agreement with the ATA to use the center as its workout and competition location.

“You don’t necessarily have to be a minority to not afford tennis, but I do think it is a great thing to push for more minorities in the sport,” Mar said.

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