While in Toronto three years ago for a Deloitte Women of Influence luncheon at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Venus Williams credited her father – Richard Williams – for her and younger sister Serena Williams’ extraordinary success on the tennis court.
Through instructional videos, the former Louisiana sharecropper and security-guard company owner taught himself and ex-wife, Oracene Price, the sport and moved his family from the comfortable Michigan’s Saginaw County – once a thriving lumber town and manufacturing centre – to the gang, drug and violence-riddled Compton neighbourhood in California with the hope that the change would provide his kids with toughness and a competitive edge.
Williams felt growing up in the ghetto would motivate his daughters to want to achieve excellence in order to escape the mostly despair, hopelessness and disempowerment associated with their surroundings.
“My decision to train my daughters on the courts of Compton was a battle not only for tennis, but for my very life,” Williams revealed in his new book, Black and White: The Way I see It. “Going to the park was like going to Wall Street where bankers did business. Unfortunately, instead of bonds and stocks, they were pushing rock cocaine. It was sold on every corner and in every market’s parking lot. The street vendors sold hot dogs from their carts and cocaine as a condiment.”
Despite the odds, he strategically prepared his daughters to become the most dominant sports siblings ever and also for life after tennis without receiving the credit he justly deserves. They have won a combined 27 Grand Slam titles and nearly $93 million.
Williams’ master plan for his daughters also included the ability for them to think entrepreneurially and become financially independent.
At three-years-old, Venus helped her father deliver phone books in the neighbourhood and she accompanied him to business seminars. He also encouraged his children to listen to business tapes at a young age.
In 2002, Venus launched V*Starr, a Florida-based commercial and design firm that works closely with clients to create fresh and distinctive environments. She teamed with retailer Steve & Barry’s to launch her own fashion line, EleVen, in 2007 and five years ago, she and her younger sister bought a stake in the Miami Dolphins, becoming the first Black women to obtain ownership in a National Football League (NFL) franchise.
A certified nail technician, Serena has a designer apparel line and signature collection of handbags and jewelry sold mainly on the Home Shopping Network.
Williams, who was in Toronto last weekend to promote his book, predicts his daughters will have the same success when they retire from tennis.
“I am not worried about them when their tennis careers are over,” he said. “They were taught at a very early age how to handle their finances and take care of their own business. They will be highly successful business people.”
With the Williams sisters approaching the twilight of their careers, their father predicts that 18-year-old left-hander, Taylor Townsend, could be a world champion. Ranked 109th in the world, she lost in straight sets to her idol, Serena Williams, in the first-round of the United States Open last August.
“I think Taylor has what it takes to get to the top,” said Williams, who came to Toronto with his 34-year-old wife and their 29-month old son. “She could be super good.”
Williams delayed his book promotion tour in Toronto to attend a rally in Ferguson, Missouri in August following the death of teenager Michael Brown.
Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer led to protests and civil unrest.
“It was important for me to go down there and show my support because a young kid was killed for no reason,” said Williams, who also shares stories in the book about the poverty and violence of his early life. “I wanted to show my solidarity.”
Black and White: The Way I see It is available at A Different Booklist, 746 Bathurst St.