Madison Keys took time out of her tortuous pre-season training regime to co-host a three-day fundraising event for FearlesslyGIRL USA in her hometown of Rock Island, Illinois. The 22-year-old American is an ambassador for FearlesslyGIRL, an organization dedicated to empowering a generation of young women by providing resources and summits to schools and communities, and the three-day summit resulted in the largest anti-bullying school assembly ever. The summit hosted 250 girls and was streamed to 22 schools in North America, reaching over 17,000 girls.
"They thought it was going to reach 7,000 girls for sure, and it ended up reaching over 17,600," Keys told WTA Insider. "It's insane, the fact that it got that far, so many people saw it, it was a really incredible feeling."
"We were in front of the girls in the room and the ones online, and the girls in the room, no one had their phones out and they were hanging on every word we were saying. They were so engaged. It was a really cool experience and it was so awesome that everyone in that room was so focused on what was happening."
Since signing on to be a FearlesslyGIRL ambassador last year, Keys has embraced her platform as a role model to young girls, taking a vocal stance against online bullying and toxic environments. Her goal is to empower young girls to speak up for themselves and for each other to create a healthier adolescent environment.
"It seemed like everyone was on the same wavelength," Keys said. "Any girl who stood up to ask a question, every girl in there was nodding her head along with the question.
"It was eye-opening that so many girls were so afraid to speak up for themselves. They were so afraid of being alone. They would rather be with friends who put them down then be alone. Instead of speaking up and saying 'hey, I don't like it when you say that to me,' they would rather suffer in silence.
"I think that's the issue with everything. As a whole, we've gotten so afraid of being by ourselves that we would rather not say anything and deal with it, instead of speaking up and saying that's not right."
Keys said the question and answer session during the summit was dominated by questions about 'mean girl' behavior in school and, to Keys' mild amusement, questions about boy drama. "Ladies! We're better than this!" Keys said, laughing. "It's typical high school drama."
But just a year after their first visit to Rock Island, Keys said the impact of the FearlesslyGIRL programs has already been felt. "When I went last year, I talked to the girls and I said sports was always great for me because it gave me something I could be confident in that was just about myself, completely separate from anybody else," Keys said. "So many girls this year said they went out for a team and they feel so much better."
Another school Keys visited last year now has a women's empowerment club that has quickly changed the culture of the school. "They're called the Rocky Riveters! They gave me a shirt and everything, and on the back of the shirt it says 'Nevertheless, she persisted.' That was amazing.
"The girls said the mentality has gotten so much better. The mean girl stuff doesn't happen anymore. I mean, that was one visit, three hours, and we had that kind of impact. It was incredible."
Read more about Keys' partnership with FearlesslyGIRL here.