2008 : Princess Williams

May 18, 2023, 9:51:02 AM

Serena Williams is a legend in Compton

We are just 6 miles away from Los Angeles, but it feels like the other end of the country. There aren’t any stars in Compton, California. This 100,000-people town stands out for its run-down houses, its barred windows, and its parched palm trees. Still, the ‘Hub City’ is a major place in the American pop culture. Kendrick Lamar, The Game, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Coolio started here, as did Venus and Serena Williams. They started playing tennis on the East Rancho Dominguez Park courts, which was also a drug dealing spot. They would sweep the court with their father before every session, and then practise for hours. They would sometimes have to get down on the floor when they heard a gun fire in the distance. Serena even joked about it during the 1999 US Open; when asked if the noise made by the planes flying over Flushing Meadows was disturbing, she said: “No I grew up in Compton, I am used to it.”

Unfortunately, Yetunde Price, one of their elder sisters, was shot down on 14 September 2003 in Compton by drug dealers. It took years for the youngest of the Williams sisters to mourn over it. “That was a really difficult time for me,” she said in an interview on Naomi Wadler’s DiversiTEA. “Yetunde and I were so close. I went through depression. I never even talked about it to my mom. No one knew I was in therapy, but I was.” That’s where her charity mostly came from. She established her foundation in 2008 to fight precarity and youth violence among underprivileged backgrounds. Besides building schools in Jamaica, Uganda, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, as well as giving college grants to poor US students, Serena’s foundation has partnered with the Caliber Foundation, which helps the victims, families, and communities affected by gun violence in the USA.

“When someone is killed or wounded through acts of senseless violence, there are many victims. Aside from the person whose life was lost, there are the children, families and communities left struggling for answers or simply left with a hole in their heart,” she said at a fund-raising event in 2014.

But are Serena and Venus Williams still related to Compton?

“We always keep it low-key. We don’t come and make an announcement that we’re here,” said Venus in The LA Times. “This has always been our roots and always will be. It makes us proud.” The sisters did come back to Compton publicly in November 2016 to celebrate the renovation of the court they started tennis on, but also to announce the creation of the Yetunde Price Resource Center, which provides logistical and psychological support to the Compton families affected by crimes and gun violence. “We definitely wanted to honour our sister’s memory through something as big as the crime she was the victim of,” said Serena. “In these moments, you wonder, how does the family react? If my sister’s children did not have us, my mother, Venus, and I by their side back then, the consequences could have been quite dramatic. We had a strong family, but some people don’t. That’s why we have created this centre.”

Twenty years after Yetunde Price was killed, Compton has not been completely purged from the violence of local gangs, though the crime peak of the late 1980s/early 1990s depicted by legendary crew NWA in Straight Outta Compton in 1988 seems to be over. The heritage left by the Williams sisters is compared to NWA’s. “NWA have done good things, but there was a negative side to it, too,” said Christopher Bailey, a long standing Compton resident in L’Équipe in 2021. “Serena and Venus have always been only positive though. Most people here think they will never see anything else in their lives. But they have given us hope.” Serena Williams retired a year later, after she lost in the 2022 US Open third round.