Madison Keys has been a vocal champion for change in the sphere of online bullying and the empowerment of young women, which began in 2016 with her work through FearlesslyGirl. Now, with the launch of her new foundation, Kindness Wins, the 25-year-old American is eying a bigger impact across all walks of life via a growing network of top professional athletes.
WTA Insider spoke with Keys to discuss her vision for Kindness Wins Day on May 22nd.
WTA Insider: What is the idea behind Kindness Wins and how did you come up with it?
Keys: I loved doing what I did with FearlesslyGirl, and honestly, without it I would have never thought to do what I'm doing now. So I really wanted to stick with the same kindness message that was really big in FearlesslyGirl and I wanted to make it a little bit more inclusive.
Because I would get so many messages from women who were working in an office, or teenage boys, adult men who said I love this so much. So I really liked the idea of what we were doing with FearlesslyGirl, I just want to make it a little bit bigger. So I started Kindness Wins.
One of the big things that I noticed when I was doing Fearlessly Girl is it's very hard as an athlete, to start a foundation. It's a lot of time. It's a lot of moving parts and it's hard. You want to help and you want to do what you can with this platform that you've created, but it is a lot to have my own foundation.
So I really like the idea of setting a foundation up that helps other athletes who also had the same mission of kindness and trying to have the same idea of where we wanted to go, be able to just join and be a part of it and have a say and really feel like it's their foundation as well, without actually having to go through all of the hurdles of creating a new foundation.
Because I can have my own foundation and call it the Madison Keys Foundation, trying to promote kindness. Then Mikaela says, Oh, I really like that and then goes out and makes her own foundation. But she had even said it was so daunting trying to think about how to create a foundation. Where do I even start?
WTA Insider: Mikaela Shifrin joined Kindness Wins earlier this month. How did you two connect?
Keys: The PR company that Kindness Wins uses had a relationship with Mikaela, so when all this started happening, she was the first name they mentioned they wanted to reach out to. We had an auction a few months ago and we both donated a lot of our stuff. She was one of the people who immediately raised her hand. From there it was just really natural for her to be part of the foundation.
Both being professional athletes, we have similar experiences, but being in different sports obviously changes things. We're not the same person, so we've had different life experiences.
So a lot of the time we'll start at a very similar place and then through talking to each other, we obviously have different experiences of how it came about and all of that. We usually end up in a similar place.
I love the idea of having different perspectives on things, different opinions, different points of view. It was really kind of fun for me to think, OK, well, I only have one way of thinking. I only have so many ideas. Wouldn't it be cool to have a group of people who are trying to do the same thing, but then we can all kind of bounce ideas off of each other and be inspired by each other?
My big thing was wanting it to be super-inclusive of all people. Any athlete who wanted to join, who had the same idea and mission in mind would be welcomed.
In the future we have such an opportunity because we have such different fan bases. Our fans tell us what they're going through a lot of the time, what they're dealing with.
So being able to have this massive audience of people where we can basically pick all of their brains and say, what's something that you really need? What's something that really turned things around for you? Was it someone super small act? Was it this or was it that? Being able to have all of these people versus just one singular little group will be super beneficial.
WTA Insider: Looking ahead, what are the concrete things you're looking to do through Kindness Wins?
Keys: We want to start with support, creating grants and funding. My agent Max gave me a great example. He was saying what his son's Little League football team, their coach is incredible. He drives around and picks up the kids from school when their parents can't do it. He picks him up. He takes them to practice and all that. His van broke down. Everyone pitched in and helped buy him a new van. He broke down crying because it was so sweet and thoughtful.
It would be something like that, where if we see this or someone sends it to us, and we find out that they need X amount of dollars to get to nationals, we're able to give them a grant or some sort of fund that helps them do that because of their kindness.
On top of doing that, the big thing I wanted to do was just constantly showing all of the good in people. I feel like a lot of times we're bombarded by all of the negative. So just being able to constantly show all the amazing things that people are doing is important. And then obviously we'll want to do one on one activations. Obviously Mikaela and I can go do events.
WTA Insider: In terms of bringing kindness into the spotlight, is that through social channels?
Keys: What I envision is that someone could just follow our social channel and it's basically all day just flooded with happiness.
We all follow social media accounts that are just feel-good accounts. I would very much love for our foundation to be one of those accounts.
WTA Insider: Turning back to tennis and the tour, how does the message of Kindness Wins apply to the tour?
Keys: There are definitely times when we see and I don't think it always has to be a big ordeal or a massive moment. I think as a whole, we've done a pretty good job of being really respectful of each other and showing great sportsmanship. I really want everyone to know and appreciate that being competitive and being respectful and kind aren't mutually exclusive. You can be both.
I really think that 9.9 times out of 10 you see that in our sport. I think it's very rare that you see a moment disrespect. But there are really big moments that I think we all remember, like Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff at the US Open.
You don't have to be grudgeful or angry after you lose a match. You can say she was better than me today and these are the things I have to go work on. But at the end of the day you can still go into the locker room and be friends.
I think there are so many of us who, we finish matches and we're legitimately friendly with each other. I think even Petra and I in Brisbane this year, I think we were laughing as we came to the net because once again, we played a crazy three-set match where we're both dying.
I think it's really funny because we still get questions about what it's like in the locker room. Honestly, we're usually just playing music or laughing or complaining about our boyfriends. It's pretty normal. We all really like each other.
We can be laughing with each other as we're walking to the court and the minute we walk on the court we think ok, I want to win today and I'm going to do everything in my power to get that win. Then you walk off and you're still the same person.
WTA Insider: How would you like to see people celebrate Kindness Wins Day on May 22nd?
Keys: I feel like social media gets so bombarded with negative stories. My big idea behind this is let's take a day and just acknowledge someone who's done something small or something big that has impacted either your life or you saw it, and it was just this moment of being really kind to one another that made you stop and think, wow, that actually meant so much to me and I appreciated that. Or even if you just saw it on the news or whatever, just these moments of kindness and basically hyping that person up because I don't think that happens enough.