By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., NNPA Columnist
Fighting for freedom and equality comes in numerous different forms, vessels and vocations, particularly in a society with a history of stereotypical distortions about human capacity and ability based on race and ethnicity. Therefore, it is important to note whenever there is an irrefutable exposure of some of those false myths and caricatures.
This is especially the case whenever African Americans are successful in achieving the highest level in any field of endeavor. It helps to shatter the false notion of racial inferiority that still too often pervades the mindset of too many people.
Misty Danielle Copeland has gracefully danced her way to the pinnacle of ballet in America and deserves our respect and profound appreciation. She did not allow the hardships of poverty – including sharing a small, low-budget hotel room with her mother and five siblings – and the doubts of others about her potential for greatness to kill her spirit or thirst for excellence.
I believe this resilient story of Copeland is inspirational and motivational for African American millennials and others who strive for excellence in a world that routinely discounts the three Ps – purpose, promise and potential. We need to change the current narrative about African American youth. Our young people need to be encouraged to excel and the example of Copeland can and should serve that purpose.
Keep in mind that Copeland did not have the opportunity to really study the art of ballet until she was a teenager. Most successful ballerinas start at much earlier age to fashion their discipline through formal ballet instruction and preparation. That meant that Copeland had to work harder and study harder to catch up to the others. Thus, one quality that stands out in the career development of Copeland was her sheer determination and tenacity to achieve her dreams.
Sylvia DelaCerna is Copeland’s mother and, to her credit, she allowed her daughter to have mentors who helped Copeland immensely on her long journey to the top of the ballet world. One takeaway is that often a committed mentor can make a big difference in a young person’s drive to achieve excellence in their career development. One such mentor was Cynthia Bradley, who lived near Los Angeles and helped Misty to focus on developing her ballet skills.
Copeland began studying ballet at 13 years old. When she turned 14, she won her first ballet contest and became a rare young solo ballet artist. The next year, at the age of 15 Misty Copeland won first place at the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards for ballet. Fast forward to June 30, 2015 when she became the first female African American to be promoted to “principal dancer” in the 75-year history of the prestigious American Ballet Theater.
The tremendous achievement of Copeland cannot be overstated. Now, millions of young African American girls and others can realistically aspire to become a world famous ballet dancer. Copeland stated, “Success is not easy and I think everyone should know that hard work and perseverance and being open to giving back are so much more powerful than stepping all over people to get to the top.” That’s wise counsel for everyone, especially our younger brothers and sisters.
We thank Copeland for her dedication and we salute her for her contributions to the struggle for racial equality on the stage and in the community where she now gives back to a new generation of dancers who are literally aspiring to follow in her footsteps.