Over two decades ago, Misty Copeland took up dance at the late age of 13 at her local Boys & Girls Club in Southern California. Since then, she has literally and figuratively been bringing a brilliance of color to the world of ballet. The first African American woman to earn the role of principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre in 2015, Copeland is on a mission to ensure young ballerinas of color have the opportunity to achieve her same level of success.
In 2012, Copeland began partnering with MindLeaps, a global organization that provides positive youth development programming through dance for at-risk children in developing countries. Copeland has established a scholarship fund through MindLeaps to send top dancers in the program to boarding school. First visiting Rwanda in 2015 to help kick off the organization’s inaugural girls program, Copeland traveled to Rwanda again this past August to visit one of her scholarship recipients and see the growth of the program.
In addition to MindLeaps, Copeland pays it forward in other ways too. From surprising sick children in the hospital with her autographed pointe shoes to supporting Boys & Girls Clubs in New York City and hosting summer dance workshops for low-income youth, Copeland is constantly taking advantage of opportunities to inspire and support young dancers who might otherwise think a future in dance is impossible for them.
“It’s important for children to be able to see themselves represented in so many different spaces,” states Copeland. “There’s no wrong way to create your own path, but you have to find support...On those days when you want to give up, you have to have people in your life who are going to keep you striving,” she adds.
One person who helped Copeland keep striving was her late friend and mentor Raven Wilkinson, an African American ballerina in the 1950s and fellow trailblazer for women of color in ballet. Copeland will host a memorial service in New York City on March 25 to pay homage to Wilkinson who passed away in December 2018.
Copeland is also an advocate for physical and emotional health and wellness. In 2017, she released a book called “Ballerina Body” to promote positive self-image through healthy eating and physical activity. She also starred in Naked Juice and Wholesome Wave’s “Drink Good Do Good” campaign this past fall alongside John Legend. The initiative aims to bring awareness to food insecurity and the fact that nearly 30 million Americans lack access to affordable, quality fruits and vegetables.
Fiercely devoted to her role as a mentor and social activist, Copeland is leaving no stone unturned in her adamant pursuit of equal opportunity and inclusion for youth, not only in ballet but across all trades and professions.