“All of the images [of black women that young black girls] get in the media, mostly entertainers, become a burden,” she said. “Looking good and being famous becomes more important than more important goals like being good students.”
Jones is the author of Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete. The book features track-and-field legend Wilma Rudolph, basketball great Lusia Harris-Stewart and golf champion Ann Gregory.
“Most of them didn’t have the greatest self-esteem at first,” she said of the legends in her book. “But through sports, they felt special. That made them leaders, and then a stronger sense of self-esteem came out.”
Jones also features Venus and Serena Williams in her book. She says that young girls admire the glamorous side of the sisters and often miss the rest of the story.
“Venus and Serena didn’t get to Wimbledon because they were lucky. Before these girls were on magazine covers, there were years and years of practice and hard work. That hard work continues today because they are still competing.”
It’s hard to miss the confidence exuded in the photographs of the women in Say It Loud. And as you read about these women, such as tennis powerhouse Althea Gibson, you understand why.
“These women were not afraid to be different,” Jones said. “Instead of giving in to peer pressure, these women embraced what was different and unique about themselves.”
The goal is not for black girls to become professional athletes or NCAA champions, although that would be wonderful. The point is giving these girls a better chance at success and happiness. Sports won’t solve every problem for every black girl, but it could definitely give them the edge that so many of them desperately need.