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Misty Copeland’s New Memoir “The Wind at My Back” Pays Homage to Another Black Ballerina

Misty Copeland, somewhat of a pathfinder herself, weaves the story of her career in with Raven Wilkinson’s, whose work had been hidden in plain sight for decades. In telling Wilkinson’s story, loudly and publicly, Copeland also writes of the friendship the two women had, and how Wilkinson pushed Copeland to soar to greater heights, career-wise and in Copeland’s personal life. This gives the book an intimate feel, sometimes uncomfortably so, but the sense of gratitude and absolute love for a woman who didn’t hear the word “no” when society repeated it overpowers any squirm you might feel.

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Cover of “The Wind at My Back” pictures Raven Wilkinson, left, and Misty Copeland, right.
Cover of “The Wind at My Back” pictures Raven Wilkinson, left, and Misty Copeland, right.

You don’t belong here.

It’s a declaration that seems confusing, at first. Who says? Who’s in charge here? You don’t belong because…why? The answer is almost always as rude and hurtful as the statement itself, almost as unthinkable now as it was 70 years ago. But in “The Wind at My Back: Resilience, Grace, and Other Gifts from My Mentor, Raven Wilkinson” by Misty Copeland with Susan Fales-Hill, those are four words that strengthen resolve.

Copeland’s first memoir, “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” was published in 2014, before her unprecedented 2015 promotion making her the first African American Principal Female Dancer in the American Ballet Theater’s 75-year history.

Her career at ABT started in the ballet corps in 2001, later becoming a soloist in 2007 when she was quite often the only Black dancer on the stage. She got used to it, but never got comfortable with it. Racism is common in dance and most Black dancers in American history were encouraged to stick with “modern” performances.

That wasn’t the kind of dance Copeland had always dreamed of.

Still, she persevered. Just being with the ABT kept her in place for what the future might bring and besides, she felt like she was representing. Her presence there was encouraging to Black girls who were told they’d never be ballerinas.

And then Copeland met Raven Wilkinson, one of several women of color who paved the way in dance.

Wilkinson (1935-2018) was born to educated, upper-crust Black parents and had set her sights on ballet when she was 5 years old, having experienced the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. She cried then at the emotion in the ballet, and she knew that she wanted to dance. Her parents enrolled her in the School of American Ballet and later, she was trained by Madame Swoboda, one of the Bolshoi Theatre’s premiere ballerinas.

On the cusp of realizing her dream, however, Wilkinson was told that it was “never going to happen” because she was “colored.”

And yet, she, too, persevered and she began touring with a professional troupe which took her to the American South where she fought for her dignity, and she endured threats on her life. Still, she danced, a pioneer, a professional, and a “first.” And when she met Copeland, she became a supportive, loving, wise, thoughtful, powerful mentor.

While it sure looks like a book and it feels like a book, “The Wind at My Back” isn’t really a book. No, it’s a love letter to an elder trailblazer with grace, both inside and out.

Copeland, somewhat of a pathfinder herself, weaves the story of her career in with Wilkinson’s, whose work had been hidden in plain sight for decades. In telling Wilkinson’s story, loudly and publicly, Copeland also writes of the friendship the two women had, and how Wilkinson pushed Copeland to soar to greater heights, career-wise and in Copeland’s personal life. This gives the book an intimate feel, sometimes uncomfortably so, but the sense of gratitude and absolute love for a woman who didn’t hear the word “no” when society repeated it overpowers any squirm you might feel.

A working knowledge of ballet will enhance your enjoyment of this book, but it’s not an absolute necessity. If you (or your teen!) merely love a good double-biography, “The Wind at My Back” belongs on your bookshelf.

“The Wind at My Back” by Misty Copeland with Susan Fales-Hill, c.2022, Grand Central Publishing, $29.00, 240 pages

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Activism

Moms 4 Housing Hold Sit-in Demanding County Supervisors Extend Eviction Protections

All formerly unhoused mothers, the Moms are risking arrest to demand that newly elected Supervisor Lena Tam uphold a previous vote for a strong package of permanent tenant protections for renters in the unincorporated areas of Alameda County as the end of the COVID Eviction Moratorium looms. Participants in the sit-in, are calling on all supporters to come to the 5th floor of 1221 Oak Street or outside the county building immediately to support the protest.

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Participants in the sit-in, which began Tuesday afternoon, are calling on all supporters to come to the 5th floor of 1221 Oak Street or outside the county building immediately to support the protest.
The Moms are prepared to hold this sit-in for 60 hours — for the 60,000 tenants who need these protections, which are set to expire.

By Post Staff

Moms 4 Housing held a sit-in in the nonviolent civil disobedience tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., to demand that the Alameda County Board of Supervisors uphold their original vote to pass permanent Just Cause eviction protections for the 60,000 tenants living in the unincorporated areas of Alameda County.

The Moms are prepared to hold this sit-in for 60 hours — for the 60,000 tenants who need these protections, which are set to expire.

All formerly unhoused mothers, the Moms are risking arrest to demand that newly elected Supervisor Lena Tam uphold a previous vote for a strong package of permanent tenant protections for renters in the unincorporated areas of Alameda County as the end of the COVID Eviction Moratorium looms.

Participants in the sit-in, are calling on all supporters to come to the 5th floor of 1221 Oak Street or outside the county building immediately to support the protest.

The Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), ACCE and EBHO, along with other local activists, are mobilizing outside of the Alameda County Administration Building to stand in solidarity with Moms 4 Housing, an organization focused on uniting mothers, neighbors, and friends to reclaim housing for the Oakland community from the big banks and real estate speculators.

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Activism

Following More Mass Shootings Democrats Introduce Assault Weapons Ban

On January 22, a gunman opened fire on a crowd celebrating the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, California, killing 11 and wounding 9. The Democrats’ proposed Age 21 Act would make it illegal to sell or buy an assault weapon to anybody under 21, bringing it in line with the legal age for purchasing handguns. President Joe Biden has publicly stated his support for the legislation.

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The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans
The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

By Stacy M. Brown,NNPA Newswire

Two proposals aimed at curbing the spread of assault rifles were submitted today by Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein of California, and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

The Assault Weapons Ban seeks to prohibit the commercialization, distribution, production, and importation of assault rifles and other firearms designed for use in military operations, as well as high-capacity magazines and similar devices.

On January 22, a gunman opened fire on a crowd celebrating the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, California, killing 11 and wounding 9.

The Democrats’ proposed Age 21 Act would make it illegal to sell or buy an assault weapon to anybody under 21, bringing it in line with the legal age for purchasing handguns.

President Joe Biden has publicly stated his support for the legislation.

Biden said that the number of mass shootings declined during the decade that the Assault Weapons Ban was in effect.

“In the 10 years that the Assault Weapons Ban was on the books, mass shootings went down,” Biden remarked.

“After Republicans let the law expire in 2004 and those weapons were allowed to be sold again, mass shootings tripled,” he declared.

Both houses of Congress were urged to take quick action by the president.

According to Biden, “the majority of American people agree with this rational measure.”

“There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities and our nation,” he insisted.

In the House of Representatives, Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline said he plans to introduce a companion bill to the Senate’s Assault Weapons Ban.

Feinstein said assault rifles “seem to be the unifying denominator in the seemingly endless number of horrific shootings.”

“Because these firearms were created for maximum efficiency in mass murder,” the senator noted.

“They have no place in our society or educational institutions. It’s time to take a stand against the gun lobby and do something about getting these lethal weapons off the streets, or at the absolute least, out of the hands of our youth.”

Blumenthal added, as the gunman at the Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park demonstrated just days ago, assault weapons are designed for one and one purpose only: to murder or hurt human beings.

“These military-style combat weapons – built for the battlefield and designed to maximize death and destruction – have brought bloodshed and carnage to our streets and continue to be the weapon of choice in countless mass shootings,” Blumenthal said.

“Guns don’t respect state boundaries, which is why we need a national solution to restricting the ownership and use of assault weapons. Now is the time to honor gun violence victims and survivors with this commonsense action.”

Rep. Ciciline argued that it is long past due to reinstate an assault weapon ban and remove these “weapons of war” from civilian areas.

The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans,” Ciciline noted.

“We need to come together to enact this commonsense, effective, and proven policy to reduce gun violence and save lives. I thank Senator Feinstein for her partnership in this fight and look forward to introducing the House companion bill in the coming weeks.”

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Activism

With a 97.3% Strike Vote, More Than 500 Richmond Educators Rally Before School Board Meeting

“We don’t want to strike, but we will if it means doing what is best for our students. Over 90% of all union members who participated in the strike authorization vote are ready to meet this crisis created by a board and management team not working in the interests of the district. We are hoping our actions through the fact-finding process will show WCCUSD that we are serious about fighting for the best resources for our students. They deserve the best, and nothing less,” UTR President John Zabala said.

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Educators across the district have weathered crisis after crisis: from budget cuts due to poor financial management, to building new virtual learning systems during the pandemic, or giving up countless prep or non-contractual hours to ensure students are with a credentialed adult every day
Educators across the district have weathered crisis after crisis: from budget cuts due to poor financial management, to building new virtual learning systems during the pandemic, or giving up countless prep or non-contractual hours to ensure students are with a credentialed adult every day

By Post Staff

United Teachers of Richmond (UTR) held a rally urging West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) officials to reach a “fair settlement” and avoid a strike.

Teachers, school psychologists, school nurses, school counselors, program specialists, librarians, and speech-language pathologists are calling for a settlement that includes community schools, shared decisions, and competitive compensation that keeps outstanding educators in the community — and brings the next generation of educators to the district.

The rally was held at Lovonya Dejean Middle School, 3400 Macdonald Ave. in Richmond.

“We don’t want to strike, but we will if it means doing what is best for our students. Over 90% of all union members who participated in the strike authorization vote are ready to meet this crisis created by a board and management team not working in the interests of the district. We are hoping our actions through the fact-finding process will show WCCUSD that we are serious about fighting for the best resources for our students. They deserve the best, and nothing less,” UTR President John Zabala said.

In mid-November last year, the Legislative Analyst Office of California announced additional guaranteed, ongoing funding for the 2023-24 school year. The district intends to only provide less than half of the percentage of ongoing permanent funding it receives from the state for educator compensation, according to a statement released by the UTR.

Despite that projection of continued funding by the state, the school district declared an impasse in negotiations with UTR. Educators across the district have weathered crisis after crisis: from budget cuts due to poor financial management, to building new virtual learning systems during the pandemic, or giving up countless prep or non-contractual hours to ensure students are with a credentialed adult every day.

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