Venus and Serena Williams made a rare visit to their childhood hometown, where their half-sister was killed in 2003, to have tennis courts dedicated in their honor on Saturday.
The sisters were greeted by cheers from a few hundred people when they arrived at Lueders Park, not far from their former home in the violence-plagued city of Compton located 17 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
“We literally lived right down the street so we could walk there,” Venus told the crowd.
Banners hung in the four corners of the two newly refurbished courts proclaiming them the Venus & Serena Williams Court of Champions.
“We are really excited to be here,” Serena said. “Driving here brought back so many memories. We definitely want to see some more champions come from these courts.”
Venus added: “It’s been a surreal experience to be back in this way.
“To have the tennis court refurbished, to make sure that there’s coaching available, to make sure that these programs go on and to make sure that this sport stays here in our community, it’s a big part of bringing us all up and creating positivity for young people.”
The sisters laughed and applauded the Compton Sounders drill team and drum squad that performed for them on court.
Babies in strollers, members of a Girl Scout troop and elderly residents were among the crowd sitting in white chairs on the two courts.
Thelma LeBeauf, an 84-year-old fan from Los Angeles, clutched a plastic bag filled with newspaper articles about the sisters she has clipped and saved over the years. She pulled out a photo from the late 1990s, when the sisters wore colorful beads in their hair.
“At that time, black people, we weren’t into tennis,” said LeBeauf, who attended with her daughter and granddaughter. “I’ve learned from watching them. I like the style they play.”
The sisters first learned to play tennis a few miles away on courts at East Rancho Dominguez Park in an unincorporated area surrounding Compton under the tutelage of their father, Richard, who didn’t attend Saturday’s ceremony.
They were accompanied by their mother, Oracene Price.
The previously run-down and little-used courts at Lueders Park are fenced with lighting and now host three tennis camps and clinics, according to Aja Brown, the city’s 34-year-old female mayor.
“When you consider all the challenges and all the obstacles that the Williams sisters had to overcome and they stayed focused and dedicated, so that same message is being transferred over to the young people in the city,” Brown said.
The sisters are helping fund the Yetunde Price Resource Center in Compton, set to open early next year. Named for their half-sister who was killed in a drive-by shooting in September 2003, the center will help connect residents affected by violence with service providers.
“It’s definitely a healing moment. They haven’t been to the city of Compton since their sister passed away,” said Brown, whose grandmother was fatally shot in Compton. “All of us in the community in some way have been touched by violence.”
After the ceremony, the sisters left the park and headed to the Healthy Compton Festival at the city’s transit plaza, where they were set to judge dance and food contests.
The sisters primarily live in South Florida, where their father moved the family from Compton so they could further hone their games at a tennis academy.