BY: DEZIMEY KUM
The "Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts" honored Grammy Award-winning artist, Maxwell and American Ballet dancer, Misty Copeland, on Sept. 11. The annual event was hosted by The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) at the Shakespeare Theater.
"Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts," recognizes the substantial contributions African Americans have made, and continue to make in the arts.
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Maxwell for his innovative contributions to the music industry as a singer, songwriter, and producer and Misty Copeland received the Performance Trailblazer Award for being the first African American ballet dancer promoted to principal dancer in the American Ballet Theatre's 75-year history.
Although the night was dedicated to Copeland's and Maxwell's achievements, the CBC also recognized three African-American students who received the CBC's performing arts scholarship.
Before the award ceremony, The Blackprint spoke with Misty Copeland and Joshua Echebiri, an actor and scholarship recipient.
The Blackprint: Being the first African-American principal dancer, what separates you from other African-Americans who have been discouraged to join ballet?
Misty Copeland: Whether it's ballet or a certain field you are entering into, as black people, I just think it's our responsibility to support one another, and to be that voice for so many that weren't given the opportunities that I've been given. It means everything to me to be in this space, to be surrounded and supported by our community. I'm just so fortunate that I happen to have had the opportunities, and the incredible mentorship and support system from our community to get me to this place.
BP: What advice would you give dancers, particularly young people of color, today?
Coepland: To stay strong. To be proud of you are, to be an individual, to not try to be like anyone else. I think right now is the time for us to be who we are, and to be proud of that. Again, I would not be who I am, if I did not have that type of support system that was "It's okay to be you, It's okay to be the first." That's what I just encourage for the next generation to be able to hold onto, to embody, and to embrace.
BP: What advice would you give to young people of color pursuing performing arts?
Joshua Echebiri: I think the advice that I would give to any young artist is to continue to follow their heart and passions. A big lesson that I learned, especially in my training, is to not be afraid of failure. In order to succeed, especially in becoming a better actor, you have to be open to take risks and to fail because you learn from failure. A big part of why I'm here today is the people around me who have encouraged me to step forward, even in the unknown, and to take risks. I would say to not be afraid of failure, and to learn from those failures, and have that self-confidence to be able to bounce back from that.
The BP: As a Nigerian coming from an immigrant background, was music your first choice? What made you pursue that career?
Echebiri: I've been blessed to have parents who have supported me throughout my journey, and my journey has had some twists and turns. I was pre-med in college, but then I realized when I was struggling with it, I knew my heart wasn't it. I think that if you pursue your passion, and if you are pursuing passion with a heart of service, I think people will eventually understand and support you, especially if you do it with excellence. Immigrant families...they love excellence.
I remember when I was applying to grad school, and I went to Yale for call backs, just hearing the name "Yale" they were like, "Yale has a graduate acting program?" So I would encourage anyone who is afraid that maybe their family or parents will not support their career paths is to tell them because you never know. If you keep doing what you're doing at an excellent level people will start to support you.