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The U. S. Open Has Officially Begun: A Tribute to Althea Gibson

Monday, August 27, 2007

I've always loved the written word, whether I've been reading or writing it. It is on nights like this that I'm reminded why I love it so much. When the visual is not available, or when our ability to be present is not an option, it is the written recording of events that allow us to mentally transport ourselves to that time and place, and be present at any given moment in time. And what a moment in time we witnessed last night, the opening events of the 2007 U. S. Open. Okay, here's the blow-by-blow.

First up a great marching band from Brooklyn, New York called the "Brooklyn Steppers." They were very good, had a lil' bit of that Grambling thang working.

Up next New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg thanked a few folks and eventually introduced the NYPD Cadets and the U. S. Open's procession of flags representing all of the countries taking part in this year's tournament.

In celebrating Althea Gibson being the first African American player to win a grand slam title, the USTA honored other African American women who have had the privilege and pleasure to celebrate other firsts. The announcer introduced honoree and host Phylicia Rashaad, the first African-American woman to win a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Broadway Play. Ms. Phylicia flowed out looking as beautful as ever. What a gracioius lady. I love the words that she opened with, "What a night! It's awe inspiring to stand here in this place where dreams have come true, lives have been changed and history has been written........" She then told us that "Althea Gibson was the first American of African descent to win the U. S. Nationals, now known as the U. S. Open. One of sports unsung heroes, her victory paved the way for some of the games finest players and she was an inspiration to women everywhere. To celebrate this milestone, let's take a look at why the Althea Gibson story must be told."

At that point sportscaster Mary Carillo narrated footage that had been put together on Althea Gibson's life. A number of celebrities and athletes spoke during the footage, to include Serena Williams, Bill Cosby, Billie Jean King and James Blake. At the end of the footage, during which the theme music to Jurassic Park music was playing (?) Yeah, it's great music, but it's too linked to the movie, anyway.......I saw this statement that Althea Gibson made and thought it so fitting, "If I have made it, it's half because I was game enought to take a lot of punishment along the way, and half because there were a lot of people who cared enough to help me.
Afterwards, Ms. Rashaad introduced a personal friend of Althea Gibson's, fomer New York City Mayor David Dinkins. He spoke with conviction about what was really going on in America with civil rights struggles for Black people from lynchings to segregated WWII barracks, and a ten years to come Brown vs. The Board of Education. It was hard times when Althea Gibson was growing up trying to make her mark in the world.

Phylicia Rashaad returned and introduced an incredible group of women and noted their firsts:

Dr. Mae Jamison,
1st African-American Female Astronaut, Space Shuttle Endeavor

Dr. Debi Thomas
1st African-American Female Olympic Medalist, Figure Skating

Ms. Sharon Pratt
1st African-American Female Mayor of a Major U. S. City

Ms. Yolanda Adams
1st African-American Female AMA Contemporary/Inspirational Artist Award

Ms. Vonetta Flowers
1st African-American Female Olympic Gold Medalist, Two-Woman Bobsled

Ms. Ella Bully-Cummings
1st African-American Female Chief of Police, Detroit Police Department

Ms. Sheila Crump Johnson
1st African-American Female Ownership in 3 Pro Sports Teams, Sole Owner of PGA Tour Championship Golf Courses

Ms. Traci Green
1st African-American Female Head Coach, Harvard University

Ms. Nikki Giovanni
1st African-American Female to Win The Rosa Parks Woman of Courage Award

Ms. Loretta Claiborne
1st African-American Female to Win The Arthur Ashe Courage Award

Ms. Susan L. Taylor
1st African-American Female to Win The Henry Johnson Fisher Award

Ms. Lynette Woodard
1st African-American Female Member of The Harlem Globetrotters

Ms. Cynthia Cooper
1st African-American Female To Score 2500 Career Points in WNBA History

Ms. Roberta Flack
1st African-American Female Student Teacher in a Predominately White School and the 1st Musician Ever to Win Back-to-Back Grammys for Record of the Year

Ms. Zina Garrison
1st African-American Female Olympic Medalist, Tennis

Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun
1st African-American Female Elected to U. S. Senate (Democrat, Illinois)

Ms. Jackie Joyner-Kersey
1st African-American Female to Win Back-to-Back Olympic Gold, Heptathlon

What an incredible group of women. I cried more each time one of them and their achievements was announced, it was incredible. The honorees seemed very happy, which made it even better.

And then...and then....the final honoree, 18-time Grammy winner Aretha Franklin came out and demanded some R-E-S-P-E-C-T. She rocked the house.

Posted by Shelia

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