Misty Copeland solidified her place in history when she was named the first African-American principal of the American Ballet Theatre in its 75-year history. She was presented with a proclamation by City Council members at City Hall Thursday, July 23.
Copeland, a petite woman with an effervescent smile, is the third Black female soloist in the history of the ballet theater. Her life story unfolds in her memoir “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina.” Hers is a story of “grace and adversity” that exposes her life over the past 32 years. Said Copeland, “It was very difficult to tackle my childhood.” She is the fourth of her mother Sylvia Della Cerna’s six children. She was raised in San Pedro, Calif. The family moved around frequently, as it was her mother’s mechanism for escaping “a string of boyfriends and husbands.”
At the age of 13, Copeland’s dance instructor at the Boys & Girls Club of America, Cynthia Bradley, introduced her to dance, and she noticed her potential to become a ballerina as she took on the role as her mentor.
Copeland’s story is riddled with all the racism and stereotypes that Black professionals encounter in their daily lives: not the right body structure, too fat, too Black, etc. She had to struggle with being the “only Black in her field”.
Said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, “The New York City Council is a reflection of the city of New York, and the majority of our elected officials are Black. It is only right for such a body of elected officials to honor one who is a shining role model for the youths in our varied communities.”
Councilwoman Inez Barron, who spearheaded the recognition, said it was very easy to get her fellow Council members to sign on to the idea. Barron presented a proclamation to Copeland, saying, “Everyone is so proud of your accomplishments. Your biography is inspiring. I applaud you for your persistence and dedication to excellence. Misty rehearses eight hours a day, seven days a week, proving that there is nothing you can’t do if you do the hard work”.
Copeland was overwhelmed by the number of young people in attendance, saying, “I am emotional because I saw so many youths out there. It is important for you to see what success can look like. I am here to represent you, no matter what color you are.”