“We did not just change the game, we rewrote the rules.”
When Poet Barbara Fant read this line as she opened the Keyholder stage, she set the tone for what was to be a profound, powerful discussion on what it means to change the game.
Every year I attend Keyholder with my annual date (my mom!) and every year, I am moved to tears or cheers by the woman sharing her story on stage.
But as Barbara spoke so poignantly, “we didn’t just change the game, we rewrote history, to rewrite our future, to rewrite our names,” I knew this night would resonate differently.
Even before the event began, the anticipation for Billie Jean King and Lisa Ling could be felt in the air; people buzzed in excitement. Crowds carried conversations where people bonded over the night’s speakers. A tennis net filled up with six-word promises from guests who shared their ideas to change the game.
After those lights flickered and Barbara Fant opened the stage with her poem, and following the introduction to Lisa Ling and Nichole Dunn, my mom and I, along with a sold out audience of 2,500, waited in awe.
A video introducing Billie Jean covered the span of her life, her career, and her game-changing contributions; she walked out on the Keyholder stage to a standing ovation. My mom, who was a girl at the time of the Battle of the Sexes, had to wipe the tears from her eyes.
In the first moments Billie Jean King was on stage, Lisa Ling stated that we were “in the presence of a true legend and icon.”
This is exactly how it felt. My mom and I sat in the first row, and being 20 feet from a true champion—not just a trophy-winner, but a proponent for causes beyond herself—was a sensational moment.
I could have listened to Billie Jean talk for days. Although many stories she shared were humorous or lighthearted in nature, there was always an underlying purpose to her experiences.
At 12 years old, just one year after Billie Jean picked up a tennis racket, she was daydreaming in a California Grandstand where she realized: everything around her was white. The shoes, the socks, the clothes, the balls, and, of course, the people. That day, she promised that she would “fight for equal rights for everyone for the rest of my life.”
As we know, Billie Jean, did, indeed, spend her life changing the game for women in sports, income equality, leadership and more. What resonated with me, however, was her understanding that the change she fought for might not come around when it could benefit her own life—and how it’s important to commit to a cause anyway.
Her honesty and humility made an impact on me. She mentioned that we can’t know everything; that sometimes, even as progressive activists, we all say or do the wrong thing from time to time—including her. The important action we take at that point is to listen and learn from the mistake, moving forward stronger.
“The more you know about history, the more you know about yourself.” Billie Jean said this—twice. She went on to say “You can only shape the future if you understand the past.” We best change the future by learning about the past and making the most of today. “What we think is who we are. I have 20 seconds between each point. What I do with those 20 seconds is major.”
To me, all of these stories resonated. It reminds me of the responsibility I, and we, all have to speak up and act when something is unequal or unfair. Anyone can change the game. You don’t have to be the smartest, the most successful, you don’t even have to be perfect at it—you just have to start.
Written by RaDonna Reed