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Parenting With Purpose: How Black Parents Support Their Children's Careers In All-White Environments

King Richard, a sports biography about tennis players Venus and Serena Williams and their father Richard, who had a big impact on their athletic careers, was released in theatres two months ago. The film has garnered tremendous acclaim for its realism in portraying the athletes’ early life. The sisters, who are credited as executive producers of the film and now nearing the conclusion of their careers, are among the finest to ever take up a racquet and did it at a time when the sport was still largely white.

Set in the early 1990s, King Richard is as much a story about parental striving as it is about young athletes’ goals. Richard Williams, the film’s titular dad who is portrayed favorably by director Reinaldo Marcus Green, is famous for deciding that his two Black daughters would be professional tennis players before they were even born. Will Smith plays the father, Venus is played by Saniyya Sidney, and Serena is played by Demi Singleton.

The film highlights relatable concerns or worries that Black parents feel for their children when they are thrust into unfamiliar arenas, in this case the all-white world of professional tennis. In an infamous example, when then-14-year-old Venus Williams was asked why she felt so confident in her tennis skills during a televised interview at the start of her professional career, her father interrupted and scolded the white journalist for “playing with the image of a...child.” Venus required all the confidence she had as a Black girl trying to build a name for herself in an all-white environment, and her father was well aware of this. For certain Black families, such anxiety might elicit legitimate sentiments of overprotection. I spoke with two Black parents, Angela Karanja and Dr. Froswa’ Drew, and a graduate student, Edidiong James.