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A Harsh Lesson for Our Daughters: My Open Letter to Taylor Townsend

09/17/2012 11:42 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2012

Dearest Taylor:

As young girls, we're encouraged to believe that we can be anything we want to be. Whether told by a loving parent, a nurturing teacher, or a story book that we found on the shelf, those words helped shaped the hopes and fuel dreams of countless children across America. As we made the journey from childhood to adolescence, that adage remained with us but acquired many amendments along the way.

"You can be anything you want to be," life taught us, "...if you study hard, stay in school, do your homework, clean your room, always do your best, never give up, practice until it's perfect..." and the list goes on and on.

At sixteen years old, you now carry the distinction of being a top-ranked, world champion tennis player because you dared to believe what you were taught as a child, and were committed enough to do the hard work which you learned it would require. Yet last week, as you were so disgracefully denied access to the dream you've worked so hard to fulfill, you were introduced to another very harsh life lesson; this week you were introduced to an ugly phenomenon known as the double standard. As you continue on your path to greatness, you'll find that this phenomenon exists in many forms. There are double standards when it comes to race, gender, complexion, education, age, class, sexual-orientation and beauty.

The premise of the double standard is simply that in order for you to be successful, you've got to be twice as good as THEM. It means that YOU- a young, black woman bursting with both the potential and the preparation to conquer the world, must be smarter, wiser, faster, better, prettier, stronger, and simultaneously humbler than them -- a subject whose identity is often elusive, but pretty much means anybody other than you.

You were harshly and cruelly introduced to this phenomenon as an organization that sets at the apex of your field, the USTA, demonstrated judgment that was so basic and infantile, that in a blind test most rational adults would have attributed its commentary to a mean girl in your high school cafeteria, rather than a senior-level official at our nation's governing body for the sport of tennis -- an organization whose mission purports "to promote and develop the growth of tennis." (I suppose that growth and development stop shorts at its tennis players.)

Instead of applauding you for your accomplishments, they accosted you about your weight; rather than promote you based on performance, they detained you based on disdain for the diversity of beautiful sizes, shapes, and statures in which human beings invariably come.

You learned a hard, but important lesson this week, Taylor - -there are many in this world that still do not believe that you should win.

But it is because of that, that I tell you this:

You must win.

You must continue to work harder and be smarter, wiser, faster, better, prettier, stronger, and simultaneously humbler than them. You must do it because there will be young girls who will soon come behind you and will look to your legacy for proof that it can be done. This week you joined a proud sisterhood, a sisterhood of women who have come before you and kicked down barriers, broken through walls, and overcome obstacles designed to keep them from getting ahead. I encourage you to look to sisters like Shirley Chisolm, the first black U.S. Congresswoman, Ursula Burns, the first black woman to run a Fortune 500 company, Beverly Johnson, the first black Supermodel to be featured on the cover of Vogue, and a woman who you may have heard of- Venus Williams- the first black, female tennis player to be ranked number one in the world. Each of these women was once told that they were "too" something or "not enough" something else. Like you, somebody told each of them that they should stop. But they kept going, just as you must keep going.

The world does not yet know what you will be the first to do. Perhaps you will be the first number one-ranked, junior tennis player who was told that she wasn't fit enough and should stop competing, yet went on to win the U.S. Open anyway, and eventually became the first black woman to run the USTA and definitively break down that superficial barrier for aspiring, young tennis player to come.

It's possible.

Just always remember this: You really can be whatever you want to be.

It is when life tells you "no" that you must stand tall and insist "yes!"

There will be roadblocks in your path, but know that you stand on the shoulders of many tenacious, unyielding, celebrated sisters that have created the path that you must now follow.

You will be whatever you want to be, because you're smarter, wiser, faster, prettier, and stronger...

Better.