The Fabulous Williams Sisters

by Sheyi Oriade

It is often supposed that lightning does not strike in the same place twice; let alone multiple times. But as is the case with most suppositions of a general nature, exceptions occur now and again to invalidate them. This past weekend, for example, the lightning of sporting genius and success of Venus and Serena Williams struck again for a combined seventh time in nine years, on Wimbledon’s Centre Court; illuminating it to the delight of their numerous admirers and tennis aficionados. Anyone acquainted with the history and peculiar traditions of the All England Tennis Club will appreciate the significance of their impressive accomplishments.

Venus and Serena Williams, although siblings, are an unlikely pair. They could not be more different in temperament and physique; Venus is introverted and statuesque and possessed of the grace, elegance and speed of a gazelle. Serena on the other hand is extroverted, and structured with the solidity and robustness of an African woman; blessed as she is, with that full feminine bodily form, so beloved by black men the world over. If ever there was a divine template upon which the female species of our race was based, I suspect it would be Serena Williams. But whilst they may differ in temperament and physique, they both share a commonality in their quest for sporting excellence and genius.

Their story of sporting success is an unlikely and unusual one; a modern day tale of the triumph of positive belief over adversity. For if one were to follow the natural order of things, their story ought to be, at best, improbable, or at worst, impossible; given the nature of their background and the traditions of the sport in which they compete and excel. Their repeated success against the odds is a parable of the power and efficacy of dreams and visions.

Credit in much part for their success, must be ascribed to their remarkable parent’s whose guidance and constancy of purpose and unyielding faith in the potential of their daughters is astounding. Richard Williams, in particular, and if I single him out for special mention, it is not because I seek to diminish the contributions of their mother, Oracene, but because, he has so often been the more vocal of the pair, where his daughters’ emergence, progress, and dominance of their chosen sport is concerned.

Appearances so often in this world are deceptive, and particularly so, in the case of Richard Williams. In looks and appearance, he could not be more ordinary looking to the eye of an observer; but concealed beneath this veneer of ordinariness, resides an extraordinary capacity to envision and birth success in a manner uncommon to many on our planet.

His dogged and unshakeable belief in his daughters’ abilities, at a time, when they had not even begun to display their prodigious talent for the larger tennis world to behold; bespeaks his tremendous confidence in them. It was easy back then to dismiss him – as many in the media did – as an over eager and excitable parent talking up his daughters’ potential in misguided fashion; as many parents are wont to do, and so often without foundation.

But what impresses me most about the incredible story of the Williams sisters particularly, from a broad perspective, is the fact, that they are a living testimony to the fact that human beings, regardless of their circumstances, are equipped with the potential to better their lot in life. Now not everyone can be a tennis or sporting champion, and as a matter of fact, not everyone desires to be such; but everyone can be successful in the particular areas that they consider to be important to their lives.

For black people, in particular, who live in the reality of a Caucasian driven and dominated world system, it is often easy to find that the odds are heavily stacked against them. In these circumstances, it is easy to become dejected and embittered, thereby losing one’s way in this maze of a world. But things do not have to be this way, as the Williams sisters and others have proven through the example of their own lives.

As human beings we are gifted with an innate and indestructible life force; which if we discover and allow it will propel us to great heights in life. Heights of which, the skies above us are but reflections of the altitudes that ought to be our natural and native territory; for we were all born to fly high.

A few weeks ago, I read in the Nigerian press, that the progressive Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, hosted as a guest in Lagos, Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United Football Club, as part of his efforts to flag off his ‘Street Football’ initiative. No doubt it must have been a joyous and inspirational occasion for the young participants in the event. Clearly the Governor of Lagos State recognises the importance and positive impact of role models in the life of the young and impressionable.

Considering the positive impact that the Williams sisters have had on numerous young people, particularly, black children across the world, and adults too; I hope that when similar invitations are issued in the future, one will find its way to Richard Williams so that he can come and share with us some of the secrets and lessons that have propelled his daughters to the heights of sporting glory. It would be money well spent, I think.

Once again, as we celebrate the phenomenal success of the Williams sisters, and by extension their eloquent repudiation of the notion, that somehow black people are genetically wired to under achieve in life; I hope that many parents are at this moment preparing their own prodigies to step into their shoes when they quit the stage.

As proud as I am of the incredible contributions of these amazing sisters to their sport and the vicarious way in which they have lifted up many of our race; my pride is also tinged with some regret. For this weekend, as the television cameras zoomed in on the Wimbledon Ladies Tennis Singles Winners’ Board, it occurred to me, that 50 or a 100 years from now, it is quite conceivable that people reading through the records may not realise that they were black.

How nice, it would have been, if these remarkable ladies had surnames like, Agbalajobi, Iwuanyawu, Shinkafi, Ogunfidodo, Ononokpono, Ohwovoriole, or even Mango Sutu Buthelezi etc; and that these names were inscribed on the Wimbledon Winners’ trophy and board and at the venues of their success. That way, there would be no doubt in the distant years to come, as to their true origins and the significance of their invaluable contributions. I suppose, there lies a challenge for Africans to measure up to.

But nevertheless, I remain happy about their success and the positive impact that they have had and continue to have on our people.

Venus and Serena Williams, praise to you both for being worthy champions and great role models; and long may you both continue to be so.

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