Written by Paul Meara
The tennis legend successfully lobbied for women to receive equal pay at Wimbledon.
Venus Williams, like every other professional tennis player, will not compete at Wimbledon this year as the coronavirus pandemic has cancelled the annual championship event for the first time since World War II.
That said, it’s giving Williams time to reflect on what she considers her biggest accomplishment in tennis.
During the mid-2000s, Venus was instrumental in convincing the governing bodies of Wimbledon and the French Open to award men and women equal prize money.
“That was something we had been working on since the 1960s,” Williams remembered during a conversation with PEOPLE. “It was long overdue.”
More recently, Williams has been using that same yearning for change in condemning police brutality and promoting racial equality. On June 8, she posted an emotional message on Instagram, reading: “Just as sexism is not only a ‘women’s issue,’ racism is not only a ‘Black issue.’”
“We need to make sure lives are saved and preserved—to me, that’s number one,” Williams told PEOPLE. “We change that by recognizing and giving a voice to what’s happening in our world. We also need to address other invisible faces of racism, from how we hire to whom we cast on television shows.”
Also during the COVID-19 outbreak, Williams has been using her recurring Instagram Live #CoachVenus workouts to raise money for the Equal Justice Initiative. She’s matching all donations to the nonprofit, whose goal is to end mass incarceration and excessive punishment, challenge racial and economic injustice, and protect basic human rights.
“I’m passionate about creating opportunities for Black youth at a grassroots level, especially with tennis and education,” Williams explained. “It’s important for me to help give minorities, disadvantaged youth and Black children the opportunity to play sports and have an education—just as I was given those opportunities. In turn, that gives them the opportunity to be excellent.”
Williams says her mother, Oracene Price, was a main inspiration for her work off the tennis court.
“Throughout my career, my mom has challenged me to pursue my creative side,” Williams explained. “Her support and encouragement is what led me to realize my love for fashion and design and to get degrees in those fields.”