Madison Keys speaks to a group of girls at the FearlesslyGirl summit on March 19, 2018 in Miami.
Madison Keys is in Paris at Stade Roland-Garros preparing for the French Open, where last year she reached the semifinal. But tomorrow, the tennis pro is focused on making the world a better place, one positive tweet, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook post at a time.
Keys and FearlesslyGirl, the organization for which she is an ambassador, have declared Tuesday, May 21, 2019 as the first Kinder Girl World Day. It’s a day designed to stop toxic behavior among girls online and, instead, to replace it with kindness.
“We challenge girls (and anyone who wishes to participate!) to tag and recognize a fellow female on social media and leave her a message of support and kindness for the world to see,” reads the FearlesslyGirl website. The social media tag is #KinderGirlWorldDay.
“We just wanted a day where instead of focusing on all of the negatives and trying to bring people down as social media has very much become, let’s have an entire day dedicated to hyping people up and reminding them why we think they’re great and how much they mean to us and why they inspire us,” said Keys by phone from Paris.
Keys, 24, became FearlesslyGirl’s ambassador shortly after the Olympic Games Rio 2016, where she advanced to the semifinals and the bronze-medal match (she narrowly missed a medal). During that summer, she had become alarmed at the number of mass shootings in the United States and realized that she wanted to do more “to bring positive news and things to the world.”
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Keys asked her agent, Max Eisenbud, for help. Could he find an organization that Keys could team with to help bring more positivity to the world?
He quickly found FearlesslyGirl, and it seemed a natural fit. FearlesslyGirl was created by Kate Whitfield who, in high school, realized that “there had to be a better way to grow up.” Mean girls should not be dismissed as just “girls being girls.”
“I didn’t buy into that,” said Whitfield by phone. “We can do better.”
She wanted to strive for an environment where girls “are collaborating instead of competing, a generation of girls who are supporting each other and elevating each other, and realizing that other girls’ or women’s success doesn’t take away from her own.”
Whitfield founded FearlesslyGirl in 2011, and the organization’s mission is to inspire confidence in girls and empower them to be kinder to themselves and each other. FearlesslyGirl has club programs for high schools, curriculum for middle and elementary schools, and half-day assemblies called summits that the organization brings to schools.
“Doing my first FearlesslyGirl summit and talking to the girls, I realized how much they related to me as far as the online bullying and expectations and how do I handle that,” Keys said. “As soon as I did my very first summit, I immediately fell in love and knew that I wanted it to be a very long-term relationship [with FearlesslyGirl].”
The idea for Kinder Girl World Day was hatched earlier this spring by Keys, Whitfield and others at FearlesslyGirl. They chose May 21 somewhat randomly; it had to be a day before the school year ended, and it had to be an “open” day, not one with a well-known following like National Doughnut Day (June 7 this year!). And the day would be focused on kindness through social media.
With over 200,000 Twitter followers and 170K on Instagram, Keys is no stranger to cyberbullying, and she and Whitfield often talk about the toxic nature of online comments.
Whether Keys wins or loses her tennis matches, she hears from faceless trolls who make nasty comments on her social media posts — about everything from how she played to her appearance.
Initially, she chose to ignore the haters. “Just ignore it, let it go, just sweep it under the rug” was her MO.
However, this strategy did little to curb the toxic behavior. So she decided to stand up for herself, but in a kind way. She wanted to pull back the curtain on faceless social media trolls and show them that she too was a person — a person with feelings just like everyone else.
She began directly responding to nasty comments and posts with something along the lines of “I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.”
Once, she wrote, “You do realize that there’s someone on the other side of this, right?”
Within 20 minutes, the person had deleted their post.
“It was a reminder that you can’t just say that to people and expect it to be okay,” she said. “On top of that, it’s amazing how many people don’t realize that it happens. If we all just pretend that it doesn't happen and ignore it and don’t talk about it, we can’t move forward and try to come up with solutions to the problem because it is a problem.”
Now Keys is bringing her positivity to the next level, encouraging her hundreds of thousands of social media followers, along with other athletes and celebrities — really, everyone including men — to be consciously kind.
On Kinder Girl World Day, Keys plans on telling the women in her life why she is thankful for them and how they have inspired her. And she is excited to see the other #KinderGirlWorldDay messages on social media.
“I don’t have any numbers in my head about what will make it successful,” Keys said. “My biggest thing is just getting people to think about it and do it and be part of it, just spread positivity and kindness around all day.
“Honestly, even if we just make three people’s days tomorrow, that’s a success.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.