They left Compton decades ago, pursuing a dream that flickered into shape on the rough public tennis courts of East Compton Park and crystallized into stunning success on well-manicured grass and carefully tended clay courts around the world. But Serena and Venus Williams never severed their ties with the city that shaped them, the place that taught them they’d have to battle for everything they earned and, above all, reinforced the importance of family having your back when others try to take you down.
Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam champion and the elder sister at 36, said she returned to Compton last year, quietly. “We always keep it low-key. We don’t come and make an announcement that we’re here,” she said. “This has always been our roots and always will be. It makes us proud.
“You always remember those places, like where we went to elementary school, the courts we practiced at, even our old home. And just places you used to go. And of course things change over time. Places move. Shops close. Streets change. But it’s still the same place.”
Their return Friday and Saturday was aimed at making Compton a better place, renewing their ties to the community while honoring the big sister whose murder in a drive-by shooting in Compton in 2003 tore a hole in their hearts that time can never repair.
Serena Williams, the 22-time Grand Slam singles champion whose 186-week reign atop the Women’s Tennis Assn. rankings recently ended, joined Venus on Friday at the Dollarhide Community Center to discuss details of the Yetunde Price Resource Center, which is scheduled to open in Compton early next month. Funded with a five-year endowment from the Williams Sisters Fund, the center will be a conduit to guide those affected by violence and trauma to get the resources they need in order to heal and move on.
Sharoni Little, the center’s chief operating officer, projected that it will serve 50 clients per month. “This is going to be not just an exchange of information but a sustained, deep relationship,” she said. “It will be relational. There will be follow-up. There will be not just passing on a card or a flyer but actually making those connections and relationships. And we obviously know it will grow because of the need.”
Serena and Venus Williams could have benefited from such help after Price, oldest of three daughters from their mother’s first marriage, was killed. Yetunde Price, who was a registered nurse, co-owned a beauty shop and sometimes worked as her sisters’ personal assistant, was 31 and left behind three young children. Two of them, daughter Justus and son Jair, on Friday received a plaque honoring their mother. The plaque will be displayed at the resource center.
“We definitely wanted to honor our sister’s memory because she was a great sister, she was our oldest sister and obviously she meant a lot to us,” Serena said. “And it meant a lot to us, to myself and to Venus and my other sisters as well, Isha and Lyndrea, that we’ve been wanting to do something for years in memory of her, especially the way it happened, a violent crime.
“Basically, how does the family react? If her kids didn’t have my mom and us, it could be really devastating. But we had such a great system that they’re doing pretty good. We just felt like people that didn’t have that opportunity to fall back on, what could they do? And that’s kind of how this resource center came about.”
Serena and Venus have been involved in many charitable efforts. Serena has funded schools in Africa and Jamaica and backed college scholarships for deserving American kids. “We try to help out as far as our arms can spread,” Serena said.
That’s pretty far. “I know we’d like to wrap this whole Earth,” Venus said. “There’s never a limit. There’s always a need and we’ll do everything that we can.”
Compton Mayor Aja Brown, 34, grew up watching the sisters’ tennis feats and was delighted to welcome them back. “They were so inspiring for me, to see girls that looked like me on the court doing amazing things and accomplishing so much with all the discipline and tenacity and the maturity that they really were able to handle so many adverse situations,” she said.
Having them reconnect with Compton through the Resource Center was a significant moment for Brown and the city. “It’s really inspiring for myself and the entire community to have them come back and to really have a strong presence and to come back with such a powerful resource for our community,” said Brown, whose maternal grandmother was murdered in a home-invasion in Compton. “I commend them for not only being champions in their own respective rights but also for being champions for Compton residents.”
Venus, left, and Serena Williams check out the commemorative certificates they received from Los Angeles County at the opening ceremony for new tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez County Park in Compton on Saturday.(Stuart Palley / For The Times)
Venus, left, and Serena Williams listen to remarks by current students who will use the new tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez County Park in Compton.(Stuart Palley / For The Times)
The Dominguez High School Marching Band played at the opening of ceremony for new tennis courts that were named in honor of pro tennis players Venus and Serena Williams.(Stuart Palley / For The Times)
Venus and Serena Williams not only participated in the opening ceremony for new tennis courts, they also visited on Friday the Yetunde Price Resource Center, which is scheduled to open in early next month at the Dollarhide Community Center.(Stuart Palley / For The Times)
Venus and Serena Williams share a laugh during their visit to the new tennis courts in Compton on Saturday.(Stuart Palley / For The Times)
Serena, left, and Venus Williams celebrate with students after unveiling a banner for the new tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez County Park in Compton.(Stuart Palley / For The Times)
The sisters spent part of Saturday in familiar surroundings at Lueders Park, which was walking distance from their childhood home, for the renaming of refurbished courts as the Venus & Serena Williams Court of Champions. Those courts, and courts at what’s now known as East Rancho Dominguez Park, are where everything began for them. Their involvement in the resource center named for their sister ensures their connection with Compton will not end.
“We’re really appreciative to have this opportunity,” Serena said, “and to have it in Compton, I think, brings everything full circle. We started here and we want to make sure people understand this is a great place to be.”