Harlem’s Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation Begins Ninth Year Recognizing Black Gymnasts In History

February 6, 2024

The Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation (WHGF) enters its ninth year recognizing Black Gymnasts in History during February’s celebration of Black History Month.

The online Black Gymnasts in History was launched in February 2016 to bring visibility and pay tribute to the many athletes who have paved the way in gymnastics’ various disciplines and continue to inspire today’s generation.

Every year during Black History Month in February, Black Gymnasts in History highlights the accomplishments of tumblers, trampolinists, artistic gymnasts, rhythmic gymnasts, and coaches.

“We just wanted to find something about the history of Blacks in gymnastics and there was not one place to go,” said WHGF CEO and Co-Founder Wendy Hilliard. “So, we started it and it’s grown and grown. It was quite a project. It was really fulfilling to do.”

The WHGF site contains profiles on many Black Gymnasts, including James Kanati Allen, the first Black male to be named to the U.S.); and Gymnastics team (1968); Jackie Court, a pioneer in NCAA’s Title IX movement for equality in sports and the first Black coach hired at Brown University; Diane Durham, the first Black U.S. national all-around champion (1983); Gabby Douglas, the first Black Olympic all-around champion (2012);  and WHGF’s very own Wendy Hilliard, a USA Gymnastics Hall of Famer who was the first Black athlete to represent the U.S. in international competition in rhythmic gymnastics and competed in three World Championships.

Black Gymnasts in History also includes video interviews with many other iconic Black athletes including Umme Salim-Beasley, Corrinne Wright Tarver, Brown Girls Gymnastics founder Derrin Moore, Taqiy Abdullah-Simmons, Nastasya Generalova, Shenea Booth, Danusia Francis, Alexandra Nicholson, Annia Hatch, and Caitlin Rooskrantz. 

Hilliard launched the idea in 2016. Today she and WHGF Director of Social Media Pam Majumdar continue to oversee Black Gymnasts in History.

Black Gymnasts in History was established with help from Abie Grossfeld, a New York City native and gymnastics standout who was an Olympian both as a gymnast and coach. Grossfeld presented “all  kinds of information,” said Hilliard.

“He sent me names I never heard of before and stories I had never heard of before,” Hilliard added. “It was gold. Thank you, Abie.

“The result of this is we are able to put this in one place.”

As the years progress, WHGF continues to expand the site, conducting video interviews with Black gymnasts and discussing their careers in the sport as well as what they are doing now.

Upcoming this month, WHGF will feature exclusive interviews including Fred Richard, the sophomore sensation at the University of Michigan who has his sights set on the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Last October, Richard, who hails from Stroughton, Massachusetts, became the first American man in 13 years to win a world gymnastics championships all-around medal when he earned a bronze medal.  Richard captured the all-around NCAA title as a freshman and in 2021 he became U.S. Junior all-around champion.

For more information about the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation, their mission and the Black Gymnasts in History series, go to www.wendyhilliardfoundation.org.

Wendy Hilliard & Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation

Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Wendy started gymnastics at age 12. She trained through the Detroit Recreation Department with coaches from the former Soviet Union. She was the first Black athlete to represent the U.S. in international competition in rhythmic gymnastics and competed in three World Championships. In 2008, she was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame. She was President of the Women’s Sports Foundation and coached 1996 Olympian Aliane Baquerot Wilson. Following her competitive and award-winning experience as a world-class athlete and coach, Wendy recognized the lack of gymnastic opportunities among urban youth, which inspired her to launch the Wendy Hilliard Gymnastics Foundation.

The WHGF is a pioneering, black-led organization, trailblazing the path for international gymnastic champions. As a nonprofit, its unparalleled legacy lies in offering support and opportunities to youth through gymnastics. Often likened to an “HBCU” for gymnastics, it distinguishes itself through the diversity and excellence of its staff. Moreover, it’s remarkable for introducing thousands of underserved youth to gymnastics, enabling some to achieve incredible heights in a sport typically not located in urban centers.

The Foundation serves urban youth between the ages of 3 to 17. At WHGF, young gymnasts learn about time management, responsibility, teamwork, leadership, and sustainable health habits.

For more information, please visit https://www.wendyhilliard.org/. 

Photo credit: 1-2) Wendy Hillard Courtesy of WHGF.

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