Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.
Venus Williams and her sister Serena have worked tirelessly to achieve success. The recent film King Richard offers a glimpse into how devoted their parents, Oracene Price and Richard Williams, were in shaping the sisters’ athletic careers. This dynamic parental duo made sure their daughters received the training that prepared them to be world champions. First, there’s the dream. Then, there’s the work. Venus and Serena dedicated their lives to becoming the absolute best. Now, their lives inspire the masses to have a vision and to strive for excellence.
While both sisters have earned numerous championship titles, Venus was the first to plunge into the professional world of tennis. Decades of training and practice have earned her seven major titles, including five Wimbledon championships, and four Olympic gold medals. And now her dedication to a healthier world, via sports and philanthropy, is reaching far and wide. Her advocacy for equality, and fighting for equal rights for female athletes, prompted the United Nations’ cultural organization, UNESCO, to name her the first "Promoter of Gender Equality."
Venus uses her global recognition to pay it forward through humanitarian work with several organizations. One notable initiative is with the Harlem Junior Tennis and Education Program (HJTEP), which allows youth to play tennis; learn life skills like sportsmanship and self-discipline, social and emotional competence; and teaches them how to lead healthy lives. Venus, who recently partnered with Clif Bar to donate funds to HTJEP, says that it’s critical to help provide opportunities to underserved communities that are similar to the one she grew up in California. “It is our duty to empower youth at a grassroots level, especially when we can pair education with sport,” she says, adding that the HJTEP participants walk away with much more than tennis skills. “They are learning valuable life lessons just like I did.”
Another nonprofit that is especially close to Venus’s heart is the Yetunde Price Resource Center (YPRC), which offers trauma-informed programs in Compton that promote individual and community-wide healing and resiliency. Named after her older half-sister who was murdered in a 2003 shooting, YPRC works to ensure that victims of direct or indirect senseless violence have complete access to existing resources. YPRC’s focus is on connecting individuals to methods and tools that support healing and mental wellness, both of which are important to Venus.
In addition to her humanitarian work, Venus has an artistic side that inspires as well. Fashion has been a longtime passion and has culminated in her clothing line, EleVen, and an interior design brand, V Starr, both born from her love for design and creativity. “From a young age, my mom stressed that we should all find ways to diversify our interests, and design was always one of mine,” Venus says. “I love helping women feel empowered through my lifestyle and activewear brand, EleVen. And I love creating beautiful spaces through my interior design firm, V Starr. I can’t believe how far each has come and am excited to see what 2022 brings.”
With the world slowly opening back up a bit in the last year, Venus says that she has been lucky to travel abroad. “It’s been amazing getting to experience other cultures,” she says. “The deep history and old architecture in Europe are so fascinating to me. I actually get a lot of design inspiration from my travels. I definitely want to continue immersing myself in the world of fashion and see where that takes me. I was able to attend Paris Fashion Week a few months back and have the utmost respect for those designers. Their ability to create is unmatched.”
Many would say the same about Venus’s game, and her ability to continue to influence so many generations of athletes and entrepreneurs. And after all that she’s accomplished, Venus continues to build and strive for more, especially since helping in the production of King Richard, which she says has sparked a fire of excitement about the entertainment industry.
“The world of film and television can be an incredibly inspiring space, and I love any medium that allows people to express their creativity,” she says. “The entertainment industry takes perseverance and drive just like sports, so I’m excited to continue developing relationships and immersing myself in the industry further.”
Richard Williams and Oracene Price had a clear vision of success for their daughters and stopped at nothing to make sure they had everything they needed to excel in tennis and in life. Venus continues to build on her iconic legacy, opening doors and creating opportunities for other athletes to thrive in sports and to achieve lives where their dreams are attainable.
Bryna Jean-Marie is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.