Writing Black

The Black Ballerina We All Should Know

Episode 16
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Maiysha sits down with world renowned ballerina Misty Copeland to talk about her book “The Wind At My Back” which is about her life as well as her mentor’s life Raven Wilkinson, who was first Black woman to dance for a major classical ballet company. Misty and Maiysha also discussed Misty breaking racial barriers in ballet, opening up doors for others and the progress that has been made in ballet. 

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[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

Maiysha Kai [00:00:07] Well, hello, hello and welcome to another episode of Writing Black. As always, I am your host, Maiysha Kai of theGrio. And this week we have a very, very special guest who a lot of you will recognize, maybe not as much for her writing, but for her incredible presence, her incredible performance. But don’t sleep because she’s written like seven books. Eight now, actually, and we’re here to talk to the incredible, the multitalented, Misty Copeland is here with us today to talk about her latest book, Wind At My Back. This is, as I was saying to Misty right before we started taping a very special book, I’m going to let her tell you why that is. But, you know, those of you who are unfamiliar with Misty story, you know, she is the first Black woman to be a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, among many other accolades, and has been an incredible presence. I think an incredible inspiration to an entire generation, several generations probably, of young dancers coming up and as well as her peers. And we’re just so excited to have you here today, Misty. Welcome. 

Misty Copeland [00:01:23] Thank you. I am so, so, so excited. 

Maiysha Kai [00:01:27] Now, this is super cool. This is super cool for me, too, because I you know, I love ballet. I have since I was a little kid, you can’t see it. I almost put it behind me. There’s a picture here in this studio that is also my office of me at age four in a tutu, you know, doing my version of a little plié. I should have put it out for this interview, but I say that to say that you know what you represent to so many of us, you know, and I know that that’s a huge mantle to carry when you’re just following your passion. Right. Has been tremendous. And you, I think, have not only danced with such grace, but picked it up with such grace. And this book in particular, special is the word I keep using, but this is a book not just about, it almost reads like it’s it’s another part of your memoir. You’ve already written a memoir, but this is like kind of a new chapter, you know, to your ongoing saga, but also interwoven with this huge tribute to your mentor, Raven Wilkinson. Wilkinson. Wilkerson. I mean, Wilkinson, I was like, how am I blanking on that? Who is, I hate using this term, an unsung Black ballerina from whom you not just saw so much of yourself mirrored, but also glean so much wisdom from. So how did this project come about for you? 

Misty Copeland [00:03:02] Yeah, well, first of all, it’s just it’s it always is so touching and kind of goes to like the root and the the power of dance. Whenever I hear stories like you just shared about being four years old,  in a tutu, wanting to dance, like there there’s so many amazing people that I meet through, you know, in all walks of areas of my life that have been connected to dance in some way at some point in their life and ballet in particular. And it’s always so comforting to me, just the power of it. But then it’s also disappointing to know that, you know, so many don’t follow that path because they don’t have representation, because they don’t have access or, you know, someone that’s there to support them and guide them. And, you know, I was fortunate to have been discovered at my Boys and Girls Club and have have a small circle. It was very supportive around me, not like the typical story of a Black girl who is often in a studio where she’s the only one and is told she’s not right, she should go on to another genre, etc., etc.. 

Excerpt from “Wind At My Back” [00:04:13] Throughout my career, like so many other Black dancers, people have wanted to push me toward modern dance, which is considered freer, wilder and therefore more suitable to someone of my heritage. Yet my dream was ballet from my first class at 13, wearing gym shorts on a basketball court at the Boys and Girls Club of San Pedro. 

Misty Copeland [00:04:34] So it’s just so meaningful to hear these stories and then and then to be able to be in a place where I can share the stories of so many Black women who weren’t given the opportunities that I was given and didn’t get a chance to even reach the level that I’m at. And Raven Wilkinson, you know, when I learned of her story, I was already a professional dancer and had gotten to a place where I felt like, what’s what’s next for me? I was a soloist and I didn’t know that I could ever even reach that. That point of being a principal dancer and just seeing Raven’s story and learning that not a lot has changed from the 1950s and that it was my responsibility to push through. And, you know, she’s passed me the torch and to go all the way. And, you know, there’s so many Black women who have done this. And I and I feel, again, it’s my responsibility to tell their stories. So like you said, it’s like a continuation for my memoir. It sees the next stages in my life and and how, you know, Raven influenced me and impacted me and the importance of intergenerational relationships and the importance of mentorship. And I truly don’t believe I would be a principal dancer had I not found Raven story and then found out she lived a block away from me. 

Maiysha Kai [00:05:55] And that was the wild part like. I love it. It felt like such kismet and you know, you just love to read those moments. It was very warming. So hard to read that yet. Gosh, you know, I one of the things that really struck me to yes, this the way that you even found her, you know, this like doing this thing that a lot of us do, you know, watching the documentary, you know, it’s something we’re interested in. Like, you know, for me, I’m like, maybe I’m maybe it’s an Ella Fitzgerald documentary. Maybe it’s Toni Morrison, you know, and and you watching this documentary, finding this woman looking for her. And I remember you writing something like, you know, heartbreakingly, she didn’t have a Wikipedia page. Right? 

Excerpt from “Wind At My Back” [00:06:37] I turned to the only tool I had Google. Heartbreakingly, this pioneering ballerina didn’t have a Wikipedia page. However, I did find interviews she’d given. I read them all and watched the ones available on YouTube. 

Maiysha Kai [00:06:54] You say that fairly early on in the book, but in the context of the book as a whole, I couldn’t help but get the impression that you were doing the thing that you felt should have been done, which is to tell her story alongside your own. Like as much as this is a story about your own trajectory is so very much a story about hers as well, which is, you know, as we all know, you know, like we’re not monolithic. It’s very different from yours, you know, your own story being well documented in terms of being raised by a single mom with siblings and, you know, having a very like rollercoaster of a childhood in terms of what that look like, in terms of stability, not of love, but of just access. Right. Where she, you know, grew up in this very, you know, middle class, upper middle class, for Black people I think in the fifties, family, you know, was going to Columbia while she was also pursuing this career as a ballerina. I guess what struck me about that was your desire to tell her story, because I don’t know that we always do that. Because it’s not I mean, it’s it’s just it’s the weaving of this. And we have to shout out Susan Fales-Hill, who you co-wrote this with, who’s an incredible author and incredible presence in her own way. 

Misty Copeland [00:08:12] And been a mentor of mine. 

Maiysha Kai [00:08:14] Yes. I love that. I love that. So yeah. And we’re going to get into mentorship too. I want to talk about that. But. Was that your aim was was this basically your kind of like when you were crafting how you were going to tell this story and I’m sure, you know, everybody wants to know more about you all the time. But when you’re crafting this was there this deliberate like, no, it has to be told like this. Like we have to weave this thing. We have to like, you know, do these parallel lives kind of thing because that was such a striking format. 

Misty Copeland [00:08:48] Yeah. And I, you know, I wanted to tell Raven’s story, but we wanted to do it in a way that really could show the power of her her presence, the power of representation, the power of of mentorship, so that it wasn’t just a straightforward, you know, biography or autobiography of of of Ravens, that I think that her power is how she touched people. It’s a combination of of sharing her story, the ups and downs. But but how much she meant to so many people and how many more people need to know her story. 

Excerpt from “Wind At My Back” [00:09:28] Reflecting on Raven’s remarkable journey and undefeatable faith and optimism reminded me that the source of power and dignity that Black Americans have cultivated over 400 years is stronger than any racist theory. 

Misty Copeland [00:09:43] But I love that you that you pointed out the fact that it’s important for us, especially in the in the ballet world and in this community, this very white world, to show that we are not a monolith and to show that we don’t all come from my experience, we don’t all come from a single parent home with no money and no opportunity. Like Raven grew up in New York City, been in this rich arts environment, you know, seeing the ballet from a young age. She grew up in the theater, and that’s usually what’s stopping, you know, that’s usually the excuse that you’re not a part of it from early enough, so it’s harder for us to take you in. A lot of Black dancers will have a later start. They don’t grow up in it. And we can’t keep telling that story because it’s not everyone’s story. And so, you know, it was important for for, you know, Susan and I coming up with the idea of our parallel stories and then how they come together and the beautiful relationship that that blossomed, you know, up until her her passing and just the fact that she got to see and witness me becoming a principal dancer just, you know, means the world to me that, you know, it was like a gift I could give her. And to have her walk on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, which is not something that they let happen. It’s so crazy how it’s still this, you know, this old traditional art form where men that work in the theater are the only ones that can come on stage and bring the ballerina flowers. It’s me and my manager, Gilda, fought to have this Black ballerina who never had the opportunity to dance on that stage, come and present me flowers at my first Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Opera House. 

Maiysha Kai [00:11:33] You know, I so first I’m tearing up at that story. We’re going to take a quick break, but we’re going to be back with more Writing Black and the incredible Misty Copeland. 

[00:11:44] Introducing Dear Culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Bring your friends for the shenanigans and stay for the edutainment. As Panama Debates Culture Wars, Janet Jackson versus Michael, Blackfession, Blackmendations and everything Black. Listen, today on theGrio mobile app for all the Black culture conversations you don’t want to miss. Also available wherever great podcasts are heard. 

[00:12:12] theGrio Black Podcast Network is here, and it’s everything you’ve been waiting for. News, talk, entertainment, sports and today’s issues all from the Black perspective. Ready for real talk and Black culture amplified. Be inspired. Listen to new and established voices now on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere. Great podcast or heard. 

Maiysha Kai [00:12:42] Okay. We are back with more Writing Black and Misty Copeland, who is talking about the Wind at My Back. Her tribute to her mentor, Raven Wilkinson, ballerina Raven Wilkinson, who if you don’t know her, you know, that’s not uncommon, unfortunately. She is one of those incredible talents, groundbreakers, trailblazers, whose narrative until now had largely gone untold. But this is such a powerful narrative of mentorship, and you mentioned that earlier. And it’s striking because, of course, you know, you’re speaking about this in a very specific context of the ballet world, but we see this throughout industry is that Black women in particular are the least likely to to get mentorship. We don’t have that, we don’t typically get that kind of support, whether we’re in the corporate world or creative fields. We, you know, and some will attribute that to the fact that there’s just not enough of us, you know, but others like yourself, when you’re entering these fields where you’re the first or you’re the only, like, who is there to give you this not just relatable experience but relationship and this guidance. Can you talk a bit more about like mentorship? I mean, because I know you’re you are now a mentor as well. So and what that’s meant in your life, I mean, you know, and even coauthoring this book with a mentor. 

Misty Copeland [00:14:14] Yeah. Yeah. It’s it’s been my biggest strength throughout my career has been having incredible mentors and specifically Black women. And, you know, I talk a lot about, you know, that I think young people, you have to be in a place where you’re open to receiving guidance and advice. I think to really be able to see what’s out there. And I would say, Susan Fales-Hill, who who co-wrote the book with me was one of my first mentors when I when I moved to New York City, Victoria Rowell, who’s an actress, Black actress, she was probably like the first, like mentor in my life as a professional ballerina. She danced with ABT studio company in the eighties and, you know, her story is the same as so many Black people. 

Maiysha Kai [00:15:10] I don’t think a lot of people know that she was a dancer. I just ran across a picture of her the other day and people were talking about how she was somebody who, like you, could have gone all the way because she was that talented. 

Misty Copeland [00:15:19] She made it into ABT’s junior company and danced with a lot of ballerinas that went on to become principal dancers. And she didn’t get that opportunity so she went into acting. But she’s someone that was in my life from an early age. And it makes all the difference when you have someone who looks at you in your eyes, who you can see yourself through, who talks to you like like an equal. So I understand the power of having that in one’s life. And I’ve had so many incredible women that have come into my life that have been that for me. So, you know, when I when I first saw Raven on the screen, it hit me in a different way than any of the any of the other mentors that I’ve had in my life. And I think it’s because she had gone as far as she could in her professional career. And so I really felt like I was walking in her path. And then her career was cut short in America because she was dancing with the Ballet Russe de Monte-Carlo, which is the only company, you know, that came from Europe and really was like the first American ballet company. And she was the first and only Black woman to dance there. She became a soloist, and then they spent most of their time touring through the South in America. 

Misty Copeland [00:16:31] So the KKK was threatening her life and it was just causing such a big a lot of trouble for the whole company. So she ended up leaving and moving to Europe, which a lot of Black dancers, even to this day do to find more work. But just learning of her story and understanding that, I feel like she’s giving me an understanding of my purpose in a much bigger way than I had before. And it’s just I understand the power of representation and what it means for me to be open and give my, you know, experiences to younger people that are coming up. And, you know, with my last book, Black Ballerina is like it was important for me to not just tell the stories of Black women who’ve come before me, but those that are my peers that are that are going to continue on after I’m retired, that it’s important for us to support one another because there’s this beautiful throughline in all of our stories. 

Maiysha Kai [00:17:35] I love that. And I want to talk a little bit more about storytelling, and we will in just a moment when we’re back with more Writing Black. 

[00:17:44] Introducing Dear Culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Bring your friends for the shenanigans and stay for the edutainment. As Panama Debates Culture War as Janet Jackson versus Michael, Blackfession, Blackmendations and everything Black. Listen today on theGrio mobile app for all the Black culture conversations you don’t want to miss, also available wherever great podcasts are heard. 

[00:18:12] theGrio Black Podcast Network is here, and it’s everything you’ve been waiting for. News, talk, entertainment, sports and today’s issues all from the Black perspective. Ready for real talk and Black culture amplified. Be inspired. Listen to new and established voices now on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere great podcast are heard. 

Maiysha Kai [00:18:42] We are back with Writing Black and Misty Copeland. And you were just talking about telling the stories of all these incredible peers and predecessors. I want to talk about storytelling in general because, again, you know, it’s like when you say the name Misty Copeland, obviously everybody just envisions you, you know, twirling around, you know, doing pirouettes on stage or dancing next to Prince or, you know. But you have become quite a prolific writer in this same period of time, which, you know, I, I have to applaud you because I think, like, that’s one of those seizing. You know, not everybody seizes that opportunity to tell stories, especially if that’s not their, you know, first medium. But I want to talk about, you know, because this is a podcast about writing while Black, writing Black stories, writing about Black identity, etc., etc., or just the inherent Blackness that, you know, seeps into all of our writing. I want to talk about storytelling with you, in particular, because, I mean, obviously, you know, we’re talking about writing as a medium, but you’ve been telling stories this whole time. I mean, every time you step on a stage, you’re telling a story. So in finding your voice as a writer, what were some of the I guess what were some parallels or strengths that you you found, you know, that you didn’t you didn’t even know you had because you were already telling stories the whole time. 

Misty Copeland [00:20:11] Yeah. You know, writing has been it was probably one of my earliest outlets before ballet. 

Maiysha Kai [00:20:19] Okay. 

Misty Copeland [00:20:21] I was such a shy and introverted child, you know, being the fourth of six children, just coming from the the environments, the circumstances that I grew up in that really didn’t nurture me to be, you know, kind of feel secure enough to be open and communicative and writing and in journals became my way of expression. And, you know, when I wrote my first my memoir almost ten years ago, I think it was now, I had just stacks of journals that I was drawing from when I wrote my memoir that I could go back and look at, you know, what I was thinking and feeling and going through at 12 years old, 13 years old, which is really incredible. But and then I found ballet and that became even more of, of, of a connection to how I needed to express myself. But there not that different. You know what we’re doing as as dancers is telling stories through our body, through the technique and language of dance. With ballet, it’s the technique of ballet in particular. And they’re kind of one in the same to me, you know, whether it’s reading books and doing the research I have to do to become a character that I’m performing on stage, I feel like they’re all so inner woven and connected, and I feel like with each book I learn more about myself and kind of become more confident and in who I am and who I want to be, which is like a really amazing privilege. 

Maiysha Kai [00:21:59] That is it’s a privilege to hear, too, because I think, well, first of all, you hit on exactly what I think I was intuiting from from not just your writing, but just from my own experience of watching you dance, of watching ballet. I’m like, these are stories like all of this is storytelling. You know, I work at a site called theGrio, which literally means storyteller, you know? So you know, this to me, this idea of tradition and and storytelling, I mean, it’s kind of what we do. But I want to get into a little bit more. I’m going to take a quick break and we’ll be back with more Misty Copeland. 

[00:22:41] Introducing Dear Culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Bring your friends for the shenanigans and stay for the edutainment. As Panama Debates Culture Wars. Janet Jackson versus Michael, Blackfessions, Blackmendations and everything Black. Listen today on theGrio mobile app for all the Black culture conversations you don’t want to miss. Also available wherever great podcasts are heard. 

[00:23:09] theGrio Black Podcast Network is here, and it’s everything you’ve been waiting for. News, talk, entertainment, sports and today’s issues all from the Black perspective. Ready for real talk and Black culture amplified. Be inspired. Listen to new and established voices now on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere great podcast are heard. 

Maiysha Kai [00:23:38] All right. So, Misty, you were just talking about we were just talking about the parallels between ballet and the written word and storytelling and all these types of things. And, you know, it’s so interesting. You know, one of the things one of the. I think one of the things that any any. Black person who? Happens to be talented or wants to participate into in the so-called fine arts runs into is this idea of belonging. Right. Like, who belongs there? Who doesn’t? What is the canon? Who’s in the canon? You know. 

Misty Copeland [00:24:22] Yup. 

Maiysha Kai [00:24:23] And I think, you know, the field that you’re in, particularly, I would say far more than writing, you know, is, you know, ballet is so identified with a European esthetic, a European, you know, the music. Everything from the music to the bodies to the everything. Right. Which obviously you’ve been working really hard to shift. And I love very much that in this book you challenge the idea and I know you’ve done this before, but both you and Raven challenge this idea that it is us who should adapt. It is us who should, you know, stop trying to integrate spaces that are supposedly for us. You know, maybe integrate isn’t the right word. But, you know, I just had a conversation not too long ago with the journalist Charlayne Hunter-Gault, who was the first Black woman to integrate the University of Georgia. Right. You know, and you think to yourself, like, could she have been that successful going to a Spelman? Maybe. Like, that’s not really the point. That actually the point. So can you talk to me a little bit about like I guess the concept of, you know, I guess as a as the phrase goes, like when and where you enter, to paraphrase that. 

Misty Copeland [00:25:33] Mm hmm. 

Maiysha Kai [00:25:34] Because you have this amazing quote right there beginning. I’m going to paraphrase it. Sorry to interrupt you. I just this struck out to me so much in your introduction. You said and I hope I don’t get this wrong, when you’re marginalized from the culture, you’re marginalized from citizenship. And I just was like. 

Misty Copeland [00:25:50] Yeah, you know, it’s something that that I learned from Raven, too. I mean, I had my own, like, intuitive, you know, response and feeling that, like, it’s, it’s no one’s place to tell me where I should dance, where I can succeed. And Raven, you know, was so much about the fact that she’s a Black woman, and she’s never going to deny that, but she’s American. And when people would ask her, you know, well, what are you? And she knew what they were looking for, she would never answer with, Oh, I’m African-American, I’m this and that. She would say, I’m an American and look them dead in their eye, like, yes, which sounds like so, so strong and powerful, especially in that time when, you know, it was it was, you know, Black people, I think, often felt that they had to, like, shrink in order to, you know, not cause any uproar. 

Maiysha Kai [00:26:49] Or pass, which you also, you know, kind of address there. 

Misty Copeland [00:26:51] Right. And she never did that, you know, and that was you know, it’s a big part of her story that within that company they asked her to and she and, you know, she said, of course, I’m not going to, you know, cause any uproar, but I’m not going to pass. Not that I’ve ever been asked to do anything like that, but, you know, it was important, you know, for me to kind of stand my ground and say that my goal has always been American ballet theater. And the importance for us to be in that space is so powerful and so important order to really make progress. But also the importance of a dance theater of Harlem or a Negro ballet, you know, and throughout history that these Black companies that had to exist, you know, there wasn’t an opportunity for Black dancers in these majority white companies. And then, you know, being offered a position with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, you know, back when I was, I don’t know, 20 years old and being offered a soloist position and understanding what an honor that is. But I knew that that wasn’t the place for me. I knew that I wanted to dance for ABT because of the repertoire, because I grew up, you know, looking at these dancers. And that was what I felt my my positions where I should be. And also, in order to really make real change in those spaces, I felt like I needed to be there. Whether it was going to happen for me or not, my presence there was going to make an impact for so many Black and brown people who were coming to see me. And a lot of those stories are told in this book. 

Maiysha Kai [00:28:30] Yeah, I know they are. And as is, you know, you address really the tightrope of that, you know, the the inevitable, the dichotomy of like both the importance of integrating a space and and acknowledging, you know, the challenges inherent and whether that be or not even then. Hmm. I mean, like you talk about colorism in this book, which, you know, I, I can relate to that conversation, you know, in terms when we talk about access, that is, yes, on one hand earned, but also granted, you know, like who gets granted that access, you know, whether you’re qualified or not. Right. 

Excerpt from “Wind At My Back” [00:29:14] Colorism is very real within the Black community and beyond. And it certainly has played a role in both the Ravens and my access and opportunity with. And ballet. But of course that does not exclude lighter skinned Black people from discrimination or being considered other. Black dancers are not a monolith. And my feeling and hope are that the success of any of us can help open the door, if even only incrementally wider, for the success of us all. 

Misty Copeland [00:29:43] And I also think, you know. What? What is both? I mean, as inspiring as you are, as inspiring as Raven is the fact that, you know, you started this conversation saying that not much has changed in 50 years. And like, what does change look like for us? I mean, we’re going through the same thing in politics. Not enough has changed in 50 years, you know? So I want to talk about that a little bit more. We’re going to take a quick break, but we’ll be right back with more of the amazing Misty Copeland. 

[00:30:14] Introducing Dear Culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Bring your friends for the shenanigans and stay for the edutainment. As Panama Debates Culture Wars. Janet Jackson versus Michael, Blackfessions, Blackmendations and everything Black. Listen today on theGrio mobile app for all the Black culture conversations you don’t want to miss. Also available wherever great podcasts are heard. 

[00:30:42] theGrio Black Podcast Network is here, and it’s everything you’ve been waiting for. News, talk, entertainment, sports and today’s issues all from the Black perspective. Ready for real talk and Black culture amplified. Be inspired. Listen to new and established voices now on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere great podcast are heard. 

Maiysha Kai [00:31:11] And we’re back with Misty Copeland and more Writing Black. We were just talking about how everything old is new again, or maybe it just never left us in the first place. But, you know, when you’re writing a book like this, when you’re when you’re looking at the kids walking into LaGuardia, as you recount in the book, when you are, you know, you’re now a mother, you know, so that’s and congratulations on that. And also, congratulations on keeping it to yourself, because that is hard to do these days. But that said, you know, what are your hopes? You know, I mean, obviously, you’ve been a change agent. You know, whether people agree with it or not, you know, you’ve done you in your way and continue to do so. And I think, like, that’s tremendous. What do you hope? What are your hopes in terms of how you can continue to change? Even just the world of ballet? 

Misty Copeland [00:32:08] You know, all I can do is is continue to push this conversation and and in a in a broad way, you know, that it’s not just the conversation that we’re having between us, people who look like us, but that we’re pushing, you know, for the ballet community to step outside of their comfort zone and to feel uncomfortable and to make real, true progress and change. And. And I must say that in my 20 plus years as a professional, in the past two or three years, it’s the most progress I’ve seen, which is makes me so hopeful. You know, but but for me personally, I feel like I’ve really done my part and what I can do while being a part of these institutions. You know, it’s American Ballet Theater is is a white institution in in the classical ballet world. And I feel like I’m at a place, you know, with my own foundation. With founding my own foundation, Misty Copeland Foundation and starting our first program, The People program, which stands for Ballet Explorations. Ballet offers leadership development and being able to implement a free afterschool ballet class in communities that don’t have the opportunity or the access. So our first our first program is being implemented in five Boys and Girls Club sites in the Bronx. 

Misty Copeland [00:33:29] We’re starting small, but we know we’re trying to do it right and have it grow. And it’s and it’s not just about bringing ballet to these communities so that they can go on to become the next Raven Wilkinson or Misty Copeland. But it’s to give them the tools to be leaders in their communities. It’s to show them that they can be a part of this craft, this art form, whether that is on the stage or behind the scenes, or eventually joining a board of directors, making real progress within these institutions. Starting them young, giving them the skills and the tools to go on to be great at whatever it is they want to do. But I think this is the importance of art. And if we can’t get that in public schools like I wish we could in every public school, then creating opportunities in the afterschool space, to me, that’s the next step in my in my career and my impact on the ballet world. 

Maiysha Kai [00:34:23] And I love that. I mean, as as a arts kid myself, I love that. I mean, and we know it’s hard to get even history taught properly in schools these days. So, you know, you are right. We are having to look for alternative ways to do that. I do want to talk just a little more about the personal aspect that you wove into this particular offering. We’re going to do that in 2 seconds, as soon as we come back with more Writing Black. 

[00:34:51] Introducing Dear Culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Bring your friends for the shenanigans and stay for the entertainment. As Panama Debates Culture Wars, Janet Jackson versus Michael, Blackfessions, Blackmendations and everything Black. Listen today on theGrio mobile app for all the Black culture conversations you don’t want to miss. Also available wherever great podcasts are heard. 

[00:35:20] theGrio Black Podcast Network is here, and it’s everything you’ve been waiting for. News, talk, entertainment, sports and today’s issues all from the Black perspective. Ready for real talk and Black culture amplified. Be inspired. Listen to new and established voices now on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere great podcast are heard. 

Maiysha Kai [00:35:49] So Misty, this is so interesting to me because I think you are understandably and admirably a private person. And you have you have been the entire time I have been watching your career. But in this memoir, this this this particular chapter of your ongoing story, you give us a glimpse at not just the mechanics of your career and the personal aspects of your life that I guess, you know, you know, your childhood and how that informs your career. But you also give us a glimpse at your love story, which is really new for us, people who have watched that. People who, you know, maybe, you know, knew you had a significant other, knew you got married, knew more recently that you are now the parents of a son. You weave that in here and it’s so lovely and so beautiful and it’s so touching and personal and but was that challenging for you? Because I feel like you’ve been really good at being like. 

Misty Copeland [00:36:54] I feel like, you know, there’s for me, there’s like a time and place for it. And this book is so personal to me and also my love story with my husband, Olu, Raven was such a big part of it. And so I felt it necessary to really show. 

Maiysha Kai [00:37:12] She was a fan. For sure. . 

Misty Copeland [00:37:18] She would flirt with Olu in front of me. She loved that man. They danced together at our wedding. Again, I wanted to be able to show and you know, Raven and so many I feel like so many Black women of her generation were this way, you know, kind of kept their private lives private, and Raven was that way. And I wanted to be able to give people an opportunity to see all sides of her, you know, not just the ballerina on the stage, but who she was as a person and the impact that she had behind the scenes, the way that I handled, you know, having conversations with my artistic director or, you know, Olu and I coming together in a real way. Like Raven was a big part of that. And I just wanted to show the impact that she had on me and on my husband and that she will have on my son, you know, the more that we share about her. But I just feel like she was a big part of my life, and it was important to tell that part of our story. 

Excerpt from “Wind At My Back” [00:38:20] Raven taught me through her example that, as they say, when and where I enter, the whole race enters with me is not just a burden and a pressure, but it offers the promise of possibility. 

Maiysha Kai [00:38:35] Well, I loved it. I thought it was really. Is there anybody that you love that you read this is you know, just just as we ask this of everybody before they go, like, is there anybody you love to read that we should know about? 

Misty Copeland [00:38:47] Well, Ta-Nehisi Coates. Yes. I mean, yes, he’s I mean, just. I don’t understand how someone can be so good with words and just have such an understanding of just kind of connecting the dots. And I thought about him a lot when I was writing the beginning of this book and what it is to raise a Black son. And yeah, I mean, I’ve never met him. He’s someone that I would love to meet and have a conversation with. 

Maiysha Kai [00:39:21] Well, I have a feeling that’s probably not too far off. And I also know for a fact that people feel the same way about you and your dancing as they do about Ta-Nehisi and his words. So there you go. Genius meets genius. Misty Copeland, thank you so much for gracing us here on Writing Black with your presence and with this latest book. Again, you know, if y’all have been sleeping on Misty Copeland books, like there’s lots of them out there for you, the holidays are coming. This is a great book to gift. Also, your children’s books are great. So, you know, I think I think people are going to be I assume people going to be hearing more from you in this. You know, this is yet another chapter. And I’m just so happy that you shared it with us. So thanks for joining us. 

Misty Copeland [00:40:03] Thank you so much for having me. 

Maiysha Kai [00:40:05] Absolutely. We will be back in a minute with more Writing Black. 

[00:40:12] Introducing Dear Culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. When you’re friends for the shenanigans and stay for the edutainment as Panama Debates Culture Wars, Janet Jackson versus Michael, Blackfessions, Blackmendations and everything Black. Listen, today on theGrio mobile app for all the Black culture conversations you don’t want to miss. Also available wherever great podcasts are heard. 

[00:40:41] theGrio Black Podcast Network is here, and it’s everything you’ve been waiting for. News, talk, entertainment, sports and today’s issues all from the Black perspective. Ready for real talk and Black culture amplify. Be inspired. Listen to new and established voices now on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere great podcast are heard. 

Maiysha Kai [00:41:10] All right. Let’s get back into it. Welcome back to Writing Black. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that conversation with Misty Copeland. And, you know, she was just telling us about who she loves to read. But this is a little segment that we call “Mai Favorites,” where I tell you who I would recommend based on the conversation that we just had. You know what’s so special about Wind At My Back is Misty’s, you know, personal and professional mentorship from Raven Wilkinson. This, until now, unsung Black ballerina who I hope everyone will get to know through this story and others. But the overriding message that I took home was that of of mentorship and what it means to get that kind of empathy and guidance and and just, you know, understanding from whether it be from a peer or an elder. I think that those relationships are so valuable. So another book that I would recommend would be Miss Chloe. This is a memoir of a literary friendship with the One and only Toni Morrison, written by A.J. Riddell. Some of you might not know that Toni Morrison’s birth name was actually Chloe. So Miss Chloe is a story of her friendship with AJ and and really giving you a glimpse at this incredible, incredible storyteller and woman and figure and, you know, all of all of the texture and complexities of her that also fed into the writing that we are still love so much. So check that out. We will be here next time with more Writing Black. Thanks so much for joining us for this week’s episode of Writing Black. As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts. 

[00:43:32] Introducing Dear Culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Bring your friends for the shenanigans and stay for the edutainment. As Panama Debates Culture Wars. Janet Jackson versus Michael, Blackfessions, Blackmendations and everything Black. Listen today on theGrio mobile app for all the Black culture conversations you don’t want to miss. Also available wherever great podcasts are heard.