By Michael Brown
Sentinel contributor writer
Hundreds of attendees convened at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles at the Young Women’s Christian Association fundraiser to honor tennis champion and entrepreneur, Venus Williams, and to celebrate members of its Jobs Corps.
The 117-year-old organization bestowed the honor of Phenomenal Woman of the Year Awards Luncheon upon Williams for her accomplishments on and off the tennis court. During her acceptance speech, Williams discussed what motivates her to contribute to charity causes, particularly in Los Angeles.
“What you do when you give back speaks to who you are, and it says something about your family,” Williams said. “Giving back is about the legacy you leave and I get satisfaction out of seeing young people be given opportunities-and excelling. It feels great to be back involved in my community.”
The YWCA of Greater Los Angeles’ mission, “Eliminating racism, empowering women,” has been exemplified by Williams throughout her career as she has traveled along the path trail blazed by others before her–and continued to break down barriers, furthering progress.
At the July 13 event, Williams acknowledged Althea Gibson, the first prominent black women’s tennis player and Billie Jean King, known for making inroads for both sexes in the tennis world and being a social justice advocate.
“Althea is special because she played at a time when things were so difficult with race, that she struggled to find a doubles partner to play with,” Williams said. “Billie Jean is just inspiring because of her book’s (Pressure is A Privilege) message and her spirit.”
Williams also praised her mother as another “phenomenal woman,” along with her sister Serena. Williams’ father, Richard, was also credited with helping her become the person she is. In fact, the crowd laughed along with Williams when she playfully poked at her father’s eccentric behavior and comments throughout her career.
Among the guests at the awards were celebrities such as actress-activist Sheryl Lee Ralph. An advocate for women’s issues, notably AIDS awareness, Ralph said, “It’s important for us to be involved whether we’re in the limelight of Hollywood or working at a community level.”
“These young people with the YWCA are the future,” she continued. “Anytime I can come out and help, it’s an honor. Venus is exceptional, but there may be many more like her out here if we just provide them with a legitimate chance at success.”
Being lauded for charity work is not foreign to Williams. She has taken an active role in the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. Venus, along with her sister, Serena, received an honor in 2009 from the Anti-Defamation League for speaking out against the Dubai tennis tournament’s denial of a visa for tennis player Shahar Pe’er, due to her being Jewish.
The YWCA’s Job Corps is an organization which serves underprivileged youths ages 16-24. The program provides free residential and non-residential programming to homeless, emancipated and at risk youth. According to the organization’s website, approximately 1200 students are served annually (60 percent male, 40 percent female). The benefactors of the proceeds raised will be the Job Corps and the new YWCA Urban Campus Project.
Jessica Powell, a Job Core student, has been enrolled in the program for almost a year. Powell, who cited Williams as a role model for young women, discussed her highlight of the acceptance speech.
“When she talked about helping girls in India and other countries, that will stick with me because it takes a big person to care about others and to be enthusiastic while doing it,” Powell said. “Venus said it almost brings her to tears when she witnesses someone who can’t help themselves, receive help. It shows empathy on her part.”