Misty Copeland: Determined to ignite change

CBS News asked noted figures in the arts, business and politics about their experience in today's civil rights movement, or about figures who inspired them in their activism.

Misty Copeland, ballerina, American Ballet Theatre

Is there something that you'd like to share about your personal connection to civil rights issues?

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Misty Copeland
Marty Sohl/ABT
In my experience as an African-American ballerina with American Ballet Theatre -- America's national ballet company -- I stood alone for a decade. I realized as a young adult that racial inequality was indeed an issue in our country, but it hit home for me in my world of classical ballet. The impact on me was deeper than I imagined it would be and even harder to face or explain it to those around me, who either felt I didn't belong or couldn't fathom what it meant for me to succeed and bring my race with me on this journey.

As the second-ever African-American ballerina to hold the rank of soloist with ABT in its 75-year history, I'm determined to ignite change, or at least provoke a conversation. My hopes are to start with American ballet in the U.S., to have it represent what the American dream and equal opportunity truly are, what it was meant to be.

Raven Wilkinson, an African-American ballerina and trailblazer in the ballet world, has inspired me to fight for equality in the arts. She was forced to leave the U.S. in the 1950s in order to continue her career in ballet because her life was being threatened by the Ku Klux Klan when her company traveled to perform. She wasn't who people envisioned a ballerina to be.

I believe I'm here to carry out her dreams, along with every little brown girl who dreams of one day being a ballerina.


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