As Coco Gauff’s meteoric rise through professional tennis gained momentum throughout 2019 after advancing multiple rounds in Wimbledon, U.S. Open, and the 2020 Australian Open championships, her season came to a screeching halt during the spring because of the global pandemic.
As months passed, the U.S. faced another crisis after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in May, leading to the revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement and conversations of civil rights and social justice. Gauff found her voice as a 16-year-old black female athlete, not only in her sport, which is made up of mostly white athletes, but also her country, where her grandmother protested the same injustices more than 50 years ago.
Shortly after Floyd’s murder, Gauff gave a short speech in her hometown of Delray Beach, Florida. She pleaded for change, unity, and love.
“I was eight years old when Trayvon Martin was killed,” Gauff said during her speech. “Why am I here at 16 still demanding change?”
Gauff’s impassioned speech caught the attention of thousands when she posted a video to her Twitter, in which she urged people to have tough conversations and take action against racism. Katrina Adams, the first Black woman to serve as U.S. Tennis Association President, was impressed by Gauff’s poise at such a young age.
“My first reaction was, wow, what a profound, mature, insightful and knowledgeable young lady,” Adams said in an interview with The Undefeated. “At that age, she understands what we’re experiencing is wrong, and she realizes that her voice truly matters.”
Gauff’s grandmother, Yvonne Lee Odom, was the first Black student to integrate Seacrest High School in Delray Beach in 1961. Gauff pulled from Odom’s experiences when preparing to speak to the crowd.
“I learned a lot about her stories over the years,” Gauff said in an interview with the New York Times. “That kind of prepared me for that moment. I also felt responsible since I do have a big platform; it would be wrong of me to stay silent when this is an issue going on.”
As the 2020 season reopens, Gauff will return to the court, but she won’t shy away from using her star status for good.
“I promise to always use my platform to spread vital information, spread awareness and fight racism,” she told The Undefeated. “Black lives have always mattered. They mattered then, they matter now and they’ll matter in the future.”