Today’s Black History Month Person of Distinction is Misty Copeland, an acclaimed ballerina who was the first African-American performer to be appointed as a principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre.
With a non-traditional entry into ballet, Copeland has created buzz outside of that world due to her being one of the few African-American performers seen in classical dance. In a meteoric rise, she has continually acknowledged the responsibility she feels to brown girls looking to make their way in the art form. Her trailblazing accomplishments have been recognized by a range of institutions, and in spring 2015 she was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People, a rare feat for someone from the dance world.
In June 2015, Copeland became the first African-American woman to dance with ABT in the dual role of Odette and Odile in Pyotry Ilycih Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Then on June 30 of that same year, Copeland scored a monumental achievement covered the world over, becoming the first African-American performer to be appointed an ABT principal dancer in the company’s 75-year history. At a subsequent news conference, an emotional Copeland stated in tears that the announcement marked the culmination of her lifelong dream.
The ballerina has also become a tour de force in the literary world, publishing two works in 2014: New York Times best-selling memoir Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, with journalist Charisse Jones as co-writer, and the award-winning children’s picture book Firebird, with art by Christopher Myers.
In May 2016, Copeland inspired a Barbie doll wearing a costume reminiscent of the one she wore in Firebird. The doll is part of Barbie’s Sheroes program which honors female heroes who break boundaries.