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Misty Copeland’s mission to empower little brown girls

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Illustrator Christopher Myers and Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland is only the second black woman in the history of the American Ballet Theatre to gain the status of soloist. Her new memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, chronicles her journey from poverty in San Pedro, Calif., living in a motel with her single mother and five siblings to the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City and becoming the first black woman ever to play the “Firebird.” A ballet by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky, this ballet was first performed in Paris on June 25, 1910 and is based on the Russian legend of the Firebird, a powerful good spirit whose feathers supposedly convey beauty and protection upon the earth.

In her memoir she talks about her legal fight to be deemed an emancipated minor:

“Mommy took the Bradleys to court, hiring the well-known attorney Gloria Allred to represent her. Hiring Gloria Allred was like posting the details of your life in neon on the Sunset Strip. Cameras and reporters were everywhere.

Mommy accused Cindy and Patrick Bradley of manipulating me into filing for emancipation and said she wanted a restraining order to keep the Bradleys away from me for good. Though I didn’t want anything to do with it, Mommy forced me to accompany her to court. She and Gloria felt my presence reinforced their position. Bewildered and scared, I would look down at the floor to avoid the camera flashes and prying eyes, but every once in a while I would steal a glance at Cindy and Patrick. They stared straight ahead, but I noticed Cindy’s lips trembling. It was hard to see them looking so tired, hurt, and sad.

At first, Cindy and Patrick fought back. They told the press, the court, and anyone else who would listen that they had just wanted me to have the kind of home life and exposure that a young, talented ballerina needed. That kind of stability and refinement, they argued, was something that my mother — single, with six children and little income — could hardly provide.

But by the fall, the fury had begun to subside. Through Gloria Allred, I formally withdrew my emancipation petition.

Looking back, even I recognize that my story was a sensational one. Like the most tragic ballets, there was a central character, innocent and bright, being pulled and pushed between two worlds. Would I emerge triumphant, like the “Firebird”? Or would I be more like Giselle, who succumbs to a broken heart?

My ending had yet to be written.”

It’s Copeland’s mission “…to break through elite confines and bring ballet to more people — particularly to those ‘little brown girls’ just like the child she once was.”

(Photos by Raymond Hagans for Steed Media Service)