Misty Copeland Explains How Feeling Like a Part of a Community Changed Her Life

The history-making ballet dancer recently announced the Boys and Girls Clubs National Youth of the Year winner Josias Reynoso, and the two shared how the clubs helped them embrace their unique talents.

Vera Bradley x Blessings In A Backpack Event With Misty Copeland
Photo: Getty Images

Feeling like part of a community might be more challenging for kids these days, but pandemic or not, it's crucial that teens find their support network. Case in point: It's thanks to the mentorship and the sense of community she found at the Boys and Girls Clubs of America that Misty Copeland went on to make history as the first African American female principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.

Copeland recently joined forces with the organization to announce 2020's National Youth of the Year winner Josias Reynoso. The duo recently chatted with Parents.com about how finding community and embracing uniqueness is integral to kids' success.

Copeland believes that finding support and community can bolster kids' belief in themselves and help them find power in their uniqueness. "I don't look at it as 'hurdles,'" says Copeland. "We can find power in the things that make us different."

"The more that you are willing to accept that yes, we can do so much as individuals, but we have so much more power when we have people behind us, the more empowered we'll be."

Finding a Calling Through Community

When Copeland was growing up as one of six children—an experience she shares with Reynoso—the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club was right across the street from her school "My mother was a single parent, struggling to raise us and make sure that we didn't end up on the street, that we were getting our schoolwork done," explains Copeland. And the Club soon became a safe "second home" for the American Ballet Theatre dancer.

"It was an incredible way for us to get tutoring, to have mentors, and to find guidance," says Copeland.

Her involvement there also paved the way to her introduction to ballet. As a "very introverted, insecure" 13-year-old, Copeland took her first ballet class on a basketball court at the Club. "That first ballet class that I took allowed for my teacher to see the potential I had," she recalls. "I was still so shy and just beginning to find some type of voice and confidence in myself. But once I was introduced to ballet, it just kind of like exploded. Ballet became a platform for me."

Reynoso, who is currently a freshman and Central Connecticut State University, was introduced to his local Club at 15 when a friend asked him to volunteer as a STEM mentor. "It was definitely anxiety-inducing at first," he admits. "I hadn't ever been in a position of leadership before."

Embracing "Uniqueness"

Being on the autism spectrum, Reynoso says he also faced oppression and discrimination from peers. But serving as a mentor allowed him to feel like a part of a community and find his place, he says. "Now, I hope to inspire the youth of tomorrow to enact their dreams and let their voices be heard, especially those like me," he says.

Reynoso says he urges other young people to embrace their differences because they make them who they are. "Do not conform to what somebody tells you you should be, but stay dedicated to who you know you are as an individual," he notes. As an individual, you are contributing so much more and making our world so much brighter."

The Power and Beauty of Giving Back

Copeland's passion for mentorship and finding supporting in others extends to other projects, as well. To get through the pandemic, Copeland has been trying to use her voice to promote healing, starting a COVID relief fund called Swans For Relief.

"When people are experiencing hardships, they do turn to art and music and to dance, to heal, to feel grounded, to find joy, and to have a beautiful escape," says Copeland. "And so, I've been trying to use my platform the best I can to bring that to people."

Supporting Your Child's Sense of Community

Parents looking to enroll their child in a program that fosters a sense of community could identify their local chapter of one of the following national organizations:

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