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The politics of breaking the mold

Richard Williams

By David L. Horne, PHD OW OPED

Richard Williams, father of Venus and Serena Williams, is now 79 years old and is having very serious health problems. He has a youngish son from his last marriage (a protracted divorce is ongoing), Chaviota Lasane Williams, who essentially cares for him currently.

When he is finally at rest, he will know he made a gigantic difference in this life. He was not just a Black male contrarian, though he had plenty of reason to be that and more negative besides. He was raised in the rural, share-cropping South, born in Louisiana. He was bathed and baptized in oozing white racism, beaten many times, but survived. In his own words he has described being raised and steeled to hardship by his very strong-willed mother. She taught him to always get up, fight back and keep moving.

Richard Williams came out of the South, determined not to be poor and not to crawl. As he details in his 2014 autobiography, “Black and White: The Way I See It,” he had to have a plan to move forward. And after hearing a chance conversation about a young tennis player (a televised winner of the French Open) making thousands of dollars for a tournament victory, he said he decided then that when he had another child, Richard would make him or her a champion tennis player, although he knew absolutely nothing at the time about playing or coaching the game. Already the sire of five children (three boys, two girls) he had abandoned in a first marriage, he convinced his second wife, Oracene “Brandy” Williams that they should have two children and that he was going to make them tennis champions. He then writes a 70 or 80-page plan to do just that, and begins a hard study of the tennis game. The rest is history, of course, and his plan did, in fact, work in spite of constant, nearly overwhelming opposition.

Venus, the elder sister (by one year) has won Wimbledon five times (seven majors in all), been ranked Number 1 in the world, and, at 41 years of age, is still recognized as one of the best female tennis players in the history of the sport. She turned pro at 14 years of age. Her younger sister Serena was recently recognized as the world’s top athlete of the last decade, has been rated Number 1 for over 319 weeks straight, and is generally recognized as the G.O.A.T. of female tennis (the Greatest Of All Time) with 23 major tournament victories. Together, they rank as the top female players (in number of major victories) of the last 30 years.

Richard Williams was right. He was dogged, determined and pushy. He was also exceedingly protective of his daughters—they knew they were never out there alone.

Executive produced by Venus and Serena (who both now have very long money), Richard Williams just got his own biopic produced for the public. Called “King Richard” it is well worth seeing. In spite of everything thrown to dissuade him, he really did do it “his way” and the movie clearly shows that. Will Smith, who has already done some brilliant acting in his own career, scores big with his portrayal here.

Go see it, either at the movies or streamed on HBO Max. Though Mr. Williams is certainly not a perfect human being—far from it—he has also not settled for the nothing Black life expected of him and his children. It is well worth your while. (Venus and Serena, for example, received very solid educations along the way—Venus speaks four languages, and Serena at least three. They’ve also both traveled the world.)

That was one hell of a plan.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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