Arthur Ashe’s social activism inspires community service

Updated: Jun. 20, 2019 at 11:51 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can,” is the message on a mural dedicated to tennis great Arthur Ashe in Richmond’s Battery Park.

However, back when Ashe was growing up, he actually could not play much tennis in this park because it had fallen into disrepair. Perhaps that experience lead him to push for adequate facilities for all children who wanted to learn the game.

He used his “star power” to fight for them and for so many other causes.

Today, as the community prepares to celebrate a street renaming in his honor, it is not hard to find people who continue to do what they can for him, no matter how small the task. It is not easy labor, but it is a labor of love for Shima Grover and her husband, Joe.

On any given morning, you will find the couple working diligently behind these orange cones, maintaining and adding touches of beauty to the Arthur Ashe, Jr. monument on Monument Avenue.

They are both members of the Richmond Tennis Association, a group they joined when they moved to the city 13 years ago.

“When we moved here, the first thing we did was look for some place Arthur Ashe was memorialized, and some place for tennis volunteers to work,” said Shima Grover.

They found both, and since then, they have mulched, planted, watered and cleaned an area dedicated to a man they have admired for decades.

“He was not only a wonderful and talented tennis player from Richmond, but also, he was very active in advocating for the less fortunate,” said Grover.

Ashe served as hard off the tennis court as he did on it, quietly, yet powerfully pushing for social change even while battling his own challenges.

After suffering several heart attacks, he touted the importance of heart health as the national chairman of the American Heart Association. He faced jail time as he protested racism in South Africa, as well as what he considered unfair policies against Haitians in the United States.

Also, after contracting AIDS from a tainted blood transfusion during bypass surgery in 1983, he traveled the world raising awareness about the disease and even founded the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, which addresses issues of inadequate health care service.

He was a champion who championed for others, which is why the Grovers join thousands of people all over the world in continuing to be there for him, whether it is something big such as a street dedication.

“I was at all the meetings speaking for the renaming,” said Grover.

Or something as small as street beautification around this statue built in his honor.

“We just don’t want people to forget what he was and how he came from Richmond, Virginia,” said Grover.

The three-day celebration of the unveiling of Arthur Ashe Boulevard begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with a social justice forum at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

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