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Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier in Delray Beach hosts women's leadership luncheon

Victoria Chiesa | April 14, 2023


DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - Influential women from all walks of life gathered Friday in Delray Beach, Fla. at the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier to hear words of wisdom from four game-changers and barrier breakers, including the iconic champion, and event's namesake, BIllie Jean King.

 

At the competition that's been dubbed the women's World Cup of tennis for 60 years, but was named for King in 2020, the tennis legend was joined by Yvonne Lee Odom, a local community leader (and Coco Gauff's grandmother), who was the first Black student integrated into a Delray Beach public high school; Gabrielle Raymond McGee, the chief operating officer of the Tory Burch Foundation; and former USTA president, and current ITF vice president, Katrina Adams, for a panel discussion that uplifted and inspired all present.

 

The event was held not only in conjunction with the premier tennis event that bears King's name, but also as part of the broader celebration of the 50th anniversary of equal prize money at the US Open, which is being commemorated before, during, and after the 2023 tournament. 

The Billie Jean King Cup is the premier, annual opportunity that female tennis players have to represent their countries, and at the luncheon, the four women leaders shared how they have been able to shape the future for women over the course of their lives. 

 

With Adams as moderator, King spoke about the moment in time that was 1973, the trials and tribulations women's tennis faced in its early days, how far society has come for women over the last five decades, and how far it still has to go. Young tennis players, ages 6-16, attending a USTA Florida tennis camp on site, were also in the audience and got to hear her inspiring tale firsthand. 

 

"It was worth it because it was the right thing to do," King said. 

Lee Odom, who grew up to be a teacher, also chronicled her own place that her youth has in history; the daughter of a pastor, Lee Odom was a star basketball player at Carver High School, for Black students in a segregated Delray Beach, in her freshman year, before being integrated to the all-white Seacrest High School in 1961. The two schools were fullly integrated in 1970, into what is now Delray's Atlantic Community High School.

 

"I was just going to go to school and do the best job I can," she said. "The first year, I was the only African American student, but I made it a point to go to everything. I said, 'If I'm going to integrate, I'm going to integrate.' My skin color ... I can't change it, I embrace it. But I always say, get to know me. If you don't like me, I'm okay with that, but just don't take a look at me and make a decision."

 

While King and Lee Odom highlighted watershed moments in the past, Raymond McGee spoke about what organizations such as her own can do in the present to close the still-existent gender gap.

 

The Tory Burch Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the American lifestyle brand Tory Burch, and seeks to aid women entrepreneurs in their professional pursuits. Recognizing that only $1 of every $23 loan dollars goes to women, Raymond McGee says that the organization partnered with Bank of America to deploy more than $95 million in low-interest loans to women who would've otherwise been turned down for capital. The organization also provides women with the educational tools and digital resources to thrive as business leaders, teaching them to advocate for themselves.

 

All this, Raymond McGee says, is in the pursuit of changing a societal stereotype than ambition is a negative trait for a woman to have. 

 

"When Tory was interviewed in The New York Times for the first time, the reporter called her ambitious," she said. "[The stereotype says] ambition for a man is great, but ambitious for a woman means something totally different. We've talked so much ... about embracing your ambition. I think Billie Jean is the greatest example possible of someone who's embraced her ambition to empower women, on and off the court, and so we need more Billie Jean Kings in the world."

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