California State University, Los Angeles honored civil rights legend Dolores Huerta during the 20th Billie Jean King & Friends Gala. The gala was one of a number of events during Cal State LA's 70th anniversary year.
"You know what I love about this university? I love the fact that we came out No. 1 for upward mobility," Billie Jean King said to the crowd gathered in the ballroom of the Langham Huntington Hotel in Pasadena for the October 21 fundraiser. "It's about helping create leaders – leaders in life, leaders wherever you go."
King was referring to a groundbreaking study that ranked Cal State LA number one in the United States for propelling a higher percentage of students from the bottom fifth of income into the top fifth of U.S. earners.
A world champion athlete and global advocate for social justice, King has helped support hundreds of Golden Eagle student-athletes during the past two decades. King won her first Wimbledon title in women's doubles while she was a player on the Cal State LA women's tennis team. Her experience at the university opened her eyes to the inequalities that existed between men and women who competed in the same sports.
Years later, as 50 million viewers watched on television, King scored a monumental victory for women's equality when she defeated Bobby Riggs in the "Battle of the Sexes." That epic match is now the subject of a feature film of the same title released last month starring Emma Stone. Fellow tennis great Rosie Casals, who was also depicted in the film, joined King at the gala and has been actively involved in planning and promoting the event since its inception.
Cal State LA President William A. Covino thanked King for her unwavering support of the university's student-athletes over the years.
"Billie Jean King has influenced history on a grand scale. But she has also left her mark on the personal histories of our students," Covino said. "For 20 years, she has helped raise scholarship funds for our student-athletes. These funds have helped them turn the tides in their lives."
Covino presented legendary civil rights activist Dolores Huerta with a California State University, Los Angeles Presidential Medallion. The medallion is the university's highest honor and is bestowed upon people who have displayed outstanding leadership and extraordinary service to the community and Cal State LA.
Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers labor union, first started her activism while a high school student in Stockton and went on to pursue a lifelong crusade to fight economic injustice and advocate for the working poor, women and children.
Huerta expressed her appreciation to Cal State LA and King for the work they've done to provide athletic opportunities to women and young people of color.
"When people engage in sports, it really helps them to overcome their inhibitions, their fears of 'I can't.' They know that they belong," Huerta said after accepting the honor. "It builds their emotional fortitude, it builds their inner strength."
King, in her remarks, noted the importance of continuing to fight for social justice.
"That's what we have to do – keep dreaming and keep helping others to build our communities."