Legacy Of Maya Angelou Carries On With African American Expressions And Caged Bird Legacy LLC Partnership

African American Expressions, America’s largest black-owned gift and greeting-card-company has joined forces with Guy Johnson, the son of the late Dr. Angelou, to create a curated line of products that honor the indelible power of her words.

Dr. Maya Angelou had a spirit full of love and hope. The power of her words and the stories she told were precious gifts given to us all. Now with the help of Caged Bird Legacy LLC, African American Expressions has created a multitude of products just in time for that wonderful time of the year, the Holiday season.

Featuring products such as the “Still I Rise” calendar from AAE’s best-selling series, to journals that will inspire you to write your own story. From the tote bag to carry a heavy load, home décor to remind you of your strength, and the first ever Christmas card with words from Dr. Angelou’s ‘Amazing Peace’ poem, these items are almost certain to disappear off the shelves as soon as they make their debut.

“Legacy is so important. Dr. Angelou empowered so many with her words of love, courage, and hope. With that in mind we created a line of products that not only reflected the beauty of her remarkable spirit, but products that allow everyone the chance to give that special someone the gift of her words,” said Greg Perkins, CEO of African American Expressions

The products will soon be available at various brick and mortar shelves around the world. However, for a sneak peak at the full line of Dr. Angelou products, as well as over 100 additional new products, visit: www.black-cards.com. The website will be updated with the products available for pre-order.

Recreation Therapy Keeps 82-Year-Old Veteran, Athlete, Coach, Mentor on His Feet

— You may have seen him at the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he is the one with an easy smile, a bounce in his step and multiple award medallions around his neck. Army Veteran Bernie Gibson, 82, is an athlete who has been competing in the National Veterans Golden Age Games (NVGAG) since they began in 1985.

The NVGAG are part of the medical center’s Recreational Therapy program, an evidence-based program that helps injured Veterans improve their functional independence and quality of life.

According to the medical center’s Recreation Therapy Supervisor Jon Palks, Recreation Therapy may look like all fun and games but it’s actually very serious treatment. “Our therapists help Veterans enhance or maintain their motor, physical, social and cognitive skills. It’s unconventional, but effective, especially for those who resist other types of treatment,” Palks said.

For Veteran Bernie Gibson, Recreation Therapy helps give his life meaning. “I’ve competed all over the place, Maine, Hawaii, San Antonio, New York, you name it,” he said. At the most recent games in Biloxi, Mississippi, he earned a gold medal in table tennis, and silver medals in shot-put, discus and horse shoes. Table tennis is his favorite he says, he’s been playing since he was 12.

The games not only provide an athletic venue but help him and other Veterans form strong friendship bonds. “I now have friends all over the nation, we keep in touch throughout the year and can’t wait to meet up again and compete with each other,” Gibson said.

Mr. Gibson is no ordinary competitor; he is also a coach and a mentor. “At the games, I often host a mini-camp to help Veterans hone their skills and to teach them how to stretch and prepare properly so they don’t injure themselves,” he said.

Jon Palks says one of the best aspects of his job is watching Veterans take what they learn in Recreation Therapy and applying it other aspects of their lives. For instance, Bernie Gibson is not only training for the next NVGAG to be held in New Mexico in August; but is putting together an exercise class for a senior citizen center in Washington, D.C.

For more information about the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s Recreation Therapy Program contact the Office of Public Affairs, 202-745-4037.

Paul Coates Celebrates 40 Years at Black Classic Press, BCP Digital Printing

For 40 years, Paul Coates has lived the highs and the lows at the helm of Black Classic Press and BCP Digital Printing.

As usual, each day is viewed the same.

“It’s always a good day to print,” said Coates, who founded the press and printing operation in 1978 not long after his stint leading the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party.“Even more so than the publishing company, one of the great accomplishments that comes out of this 40 years is the printing company,” he said.

“There are many publishing companies, but there’s still only one black book printing company in this country that I know of and that’s Black Classic Press,” he said, adding that, as a student of printing, he believes he would be aware if there were another black printing company.

Having any conversation with Coates, it’s hard not to pose at least one question about his son, Ta-Nehisi, the decorated journalist and author who has earned global acclaim for his work.

“I didn’t foresee it and I know he didn’t foresee himself having the success he’s had,” Coates said.

When reminded that he’s often referred to as “Ta-Nehisi’s dad” rather than Ta-Nehisi being referred to as his son, Coates laughed.“The moon has been eclipsed by the sun, but it’s all good,” he said.

Coates has a lot on his plate as he celebrates the 40th anniversary of his companies where books and uther literature are available from such icons as W.E.B. DuBois, Carter G. Woodson and Walter Mosley. Literary lovers can also find such gems like “Fidel & Malcolm X: Memories of a Meeting,” where they can read the compelling account of the historic Harlem meeting between Fidel Castro and Malcolm X and the revolutionary movements they spawned.

Coates’ company has been devoted to publishing obscure and significant works by and about individuals of African descent. Black Classic Press specializes in republishing works that are out of print.

“We began publishing because we wanted to extend the memory of what we believe are important books that have helped in meaningful ways to shape the black diasporic experience and our understanding of the world,” Coates said.

He owes his success to those who have “reached out and lent a hand along the way.” Those include the “three elders” who gave their support, John G. Jackson, John Henrik Clarke and Yosef ben-Jochannan, Coates said.

However, it was another man named Deaver Smith who Coates said may have inspired him more than others.

“Dozens of people stand out, but the one person that continues to really stand out for me is Deaver Smith,”

Coates said. In 1906, Smith opened Deaver Smith & Sons, a coffee, tea and spice shop along Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. Coates became a regular customer.

“I used to pass by the shop all the time and get these wonderful aromas of coffee, spices, teas. The man who founded the company worked with his son and I went in there and asked whether it was black owned, and the son said yes.”

Coates continued: “He founded the company in 1906 and it looked like it. It was dark with bags of spices all over, the floors were wooden, the cash register was old, the phone was old and the man who ran it was old. But, the reason it became my biggest inspiration was because, here was this black-owned spice business on Pennsylvania Avenue and he’d been there for so long and he’d been successful right in the middle of a city that had one of the biggest spice companies in the world— McCormick.

“He competed against McCormick in their own territory and he survived.”

Overcoming racism and oppression is as much a part of business as it is of everyday life, Coates said. “Pretty soon, you ignore it. I think you almost have to ignore it because you must be in a space of doing what you do,” he said.

“At the same time, it can serve as fuel for you; you know the conditions are not right, but I don’t know how much of it you can focus on because it would probably drive you crazy.”

Coates said he didn’t envision his own success, particularly in the publishing and printing business.

“I didn’t foresee it at all, although coming out of the Black Panther Party led to this because what I did do in the Black Panther Party was recognize the importance of education and recognized the importance of community being responsible for education,” he said.

“I recognized that we have the right to learn about ourselves, the right to write about ourselves and read about ourselves so it was a desire to continue that type of work,” Coates said.

His foray into publishing and printing began with working with imprisoned African-American men and women. It was an effort to educate them, he said.

Today, publishing, printing and the Black Press remains vital to the African-American community, Coates said. “It’s just like Deaver Smith. We still have to do our own thing and we should do our own thing,” he said.

“No matter how out-sized we are, we still have a responsibility to serve ourselves and we’ve got to figure out a model that works for us.”

“We can’t listen to people who say this is no longer relevant or whatever. Samuel Cornish said it was too long that others had spoken for us. It was outsized and impractical then. “The Black Press is still relevant, and we have to keep pushing. Classic Black Press and BCP Digital Printing were outsized and one of the smallest printing companies, but we’re still here.”

NASA celebrates legacy of first black American astronaut

Fifty years ago, a tragic accident ended the groundbreaking career of Major Robert H. Lawrence, Jr., a Chicago native and stellar Air Force pilot who became America’s first black astronaut.

On December 8, 2017—the 50th anniversary of his death—NASA honored his often-ignored legacy and contributions to the agency.

Earlier in the year, the Chicago Crusader reported about the lack of visibility of NASA’s first black American astronaut and helped to raise awareness about Lawrence’s incredible journey.

In planning a story for its annual Black History Month edition, Chicago Crusader staffers discovered that little was being done to honor Lawrence, while NASA held memorials to mark the 50th anniversary of three, white astronauts who perished in a fire aboard the Apollo 1 space module, during a preflight test.

The Crusader story lauding Lawrence’s achievements was published in dozens of black newspapers after the National Newspapers Publishers Association (NNPA) carried it on its newswire.

Born in 1935 to the late Gwendolyn Duncan and Robert H. Lawrence, Sr., the future Air Force pilot was a man ahead of his time. Long before magnet and STEM programs were part of the high school curriculum, Lawrence excelled in math and science.

At 16, he graduated with honors from Englewood High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bradley University. He married the late Barbara Cress from the prominent Chicago Cress family and entered the Air Force at age 21 before earning a doctorate in physical chemistry from Ohio State University, becoming the first astronaut at NASA to earn a doctorate degree.

As a United States Air Force pilot, Lawrence accumulated over 2,500 flight hours. In June 1967, Lawrence graduated from the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School (Class ‘66B) at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. In that same month, he was selected by the USAF as an astronaut for their Manned Orbital Laboratory (MOL) program, thus becoming the first black astronaut.

Lawrence died while training another pilot, Maj. John Royer, to perform the “flare” maneuver— an operation that Lawrence had already mastered— in the F-104 Starfighter.

“Major Robert H. Lawrence truly was a hero,” said Cabana. “He set the stage for what was to come.”

“Major Robert H. Lawrence truly was a hero,” said Cabana. “He set the stage for what was to come.”

According to NBC News, “Lawrence’s memory languished in obscurity” partly due to the fact that, the Pentagon only recognized someone as an “astronaut” if they actually flew to an altitude above 50 miles.

However, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Va.) mounted a campaign that forced NASA to put Lawrence’s name on the Space Mirror Memorial in 1997—thirty years after Lawrence’s death.

“On December 8, 1997, on the thirtieth anniversary of his death, Lawrence had his name unveiled on the Florida memorial,” NBC News reported.

The ceremony recognizing Lawrence, in December— although spirited, at times— was a somber one for the 300 guests that included decorated NASA astronauts, dignitaries, relatives, and friends, who had flown and driven miles across the country to honor Lawrence at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Lawrence’s older sister, Dr. Barbara Lawrence, attended and spoke; another prominent Chicago resident who was present was E. Dawn Griffin, the oldest daughter of Ernest Griffin, founder of Griffin Funeral Home in Bronzeville. The Griffin Funeral Home, which closed in 2012, handled the funeral arrangements for Lawrence.

Members from Lawrence’s college fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, also attended to honor one of their own. On the sprawling grounds of the NASA facility, they participated in a two-and-a-half-hour ceremony that began at the Center for Space Education and culminated with an emotional wreath-laying ceremony at the base of the national Space Mirror Memorial, a massive black granite structure where Lawrence’s name is among those of 20 astronauts who either died in flight or in training.

The ceremony brought out some of NASA’s astronauts and biggest officials. Charles Bolden, America’s first black NASA chief administrator, and Stephanie Wilson, the second black female astronaut, attended the service. Another black astronaut, Winston Scott, played the trumpet in a band that performed various jazz songs, including, “Fly Me to the Moon.” Reportedly, jazz was one of Lawrence’s favorite musical genres.

Dr. Herman B. White Jr., a physicist and lecturer at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., Lawrence’s alma mater, gave a presentation where a memorial scholarship and a conference room bear Lawrence’s name. Recently, Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio renamed a dormitory in Lawrence’s honor.

Bolden, who piloted the space shuttles Columbia and Discovery, praised Lawrence for his spirit.

“He took that first step,” Bolden said. “If he had lived, he would have been flying on that space shuttle also.”

Col. Robert Cabana, who flew on four shuttle missions, agreed.

“Major Robert H. Lawrence truly was a hero,” said Cabana. “He set the stage for what was to come.”

Dr. Barbara Lawrence shared her experiences with her brother as they grew up on the South Side of Chicago. She said, when Robert was young, he was a very disciplined student and dedicated to learning.

“I’m truly proud to have been his sister,” she shared. “He wasn’t interested in being the first black astronaut. He was only

interested in being given the opportunity to do what he wanted to do. I’m sorry he wasn’t here a little longer, but I think his job was one that was well done.”

UMB Making a Difference

William “Bill” Freeman, the business management consultant for the Maryland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) has helped all kinds of entrepreneurs develop their businesses. From carryout owners to casket makers, Bill draws on over 30 years of business development experience, 15 spent in Baltimore, to help guide entrepreneurs through the process of starting and sustaining a business.

Bill maintains an office at the Graduate Research Innovation District (The Grid) in the Lion Brothers Building where students and community members alike can get his expert advice on business plan development, 8(a) & MBE application reviews, funding, and taking an established business to the next level. He’s visited community meetings in Poppleton and Hollins Market offering his services to community members, because “You never know, someone there could be the next Apple or the next Bill Gates,” he says. Freeman says he sees himself as a flashlight, helping would-be entrepreneurs navigate through unknown territory.

On Jan. 31, 2018 from 8:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. aspiring and established entrepreneurs are invited to the Grid located at 875 Hollins Street to meet Bill Freeman and discover the free resources available to help make your business dreams come true. The free event is part of the UMB’s commitment to serving the community.

UMB: What kind of clients do you serve?

Bill Freeman: We take all kinds of people. Those that have ideas, those that are already in business as well as those in existing business. We can help them in all phases where ever they are in the continuum. Sometimes when it’s an idea, they need assistance. When it’s a startup they need things to grow their business. And then you have those that are in business that are looking to enhance that business.

UMB: How do I make an appointment?

BF: You can email me at wfreeman@umd.edu and I will get back to you with appointment information. Appointments last about an hour and a half and the sessions are confidential followed by unlimited visits. It only depends on your time and mine at no cost to you. We’re here to give whatever assistance you need in order to grow or start your business and it’s really up to you how much of the services you want to use.

UMB: How important is it to have a business plan?

BF: It’s definitely good to have an idea. Primarily because it shows your enthusiasm to start a business. We will review a business plan to see if it has all of the components, particularly if you’re looking to borrow money. A business plan is a road map.

It tells you where you are and where you want to go. Whenever you go on a vacation, you plan that vacation and it’s the same thing with a business plan. It helps you determine how to get there.

UMB: How does your previous banking experience help in this role?

BF: As a banker I know what is needed out there in the working world. I’ve been a banker for some 20-25 years and I have a pretty good idea as to what a company needs in order to grow their business. Particularly after sitting down and talking with you and finding out about your business that will give me more information to help move your agenda forward.

UMB: Are you looking for a particular type of business?

BF: We’re not looking specifically for any particular business. We want to help all business owners make their dreams come true. I have a variety of different businesses from daycare facilities, to a gentleman who makes caskets. It runs the gamut. I have a psychiatrist, I have dog walkers. I never know what’s coming in the door.

UMB: Do I need a lot of money to turn my idea into a business?

BF: You don’t have to have a whole lot of money. You just have to have an idea and go forward and really believe in it. You have to believe in your heart of hearts it will work regardless of what people say. There may be a time that it doesn’t, but you’ll never know unless you try.

UMB: What is your goal for entrepreneurs who visit your office?

BF: We want them to start that business because it gives a feeling of accomplishment. It also helps to create wealth and that’s very important in today’s society because you’re able to leave something for your children and your grandchildren and that in turn will allow them to grow. Additionally, it gives you more self worth that you’ve accomplished something, that you’ve made your mark.

To make a confidential business consultation appointment with Bill Freeman, email wfreeman@umd.edu.

To RSVP to the January 31, 2018 “Meet Bill Freeman” event at The Grid, email grid@umaryland.edu.

A Man On A Mission at Johns Hopkins

James E. Page, Jr. is on a mission. His mission: to create a stronger “bond” between Johns Hopkins Medicine and its community, with a specific focus on addressing issues of race and health discrimination amongst residents in Baltimore. Page is the Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President of Johns Hopkins Medicine. In his post, Page is responsible for overseeing all diversity and inclusion policy and planning across multiple hospitals, health care groups, and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

The world-renowned academic medical center marks its 125th anniversary with a renewed commitment to diversity and inclusion with Page leading the charge.

Since arriving at Johns Hopkins in 2014, Page has overseen an increase of women in senior leadership positions from 44% to 55%, has launched the Center for Transgender Health, and has contributed to a marked statistical improvement of employee engagement and positive diversity perspectives across all 13 entities within Johns Hopkins Medicine.

As a result of his leadership, Johns Hopkins Medicine received the 2017 Innovations in Diversity and Inclusion award from Profiles in Diversity Journal, which also awarded Page its 2018 Diversity Leader Award.

Many would say “Mission Accomplished”. However, Page believes that until the mission of Hopkins’ founder Johns Hopkins is fully realized, more work must be done.

“We looked at the wording in a letter Mr. Hopkins wrote in 1870,” said Page. “In that letter, he wrote that Johns Hopkins Hospital will not only be for the white, but for the sick, poor, and colored. The first patient was a black man who was helping to lay bricks and fell. Our ideals are based on the standards of our founder. But, we have not always lived up to those standards.”

He added, “There is a huge trust barrier that exits between the community and Johns Hopkins. That trust barriers leads to delays in care and complications. I do not believe the community should have the top medical system in its back yard, and have people feel they don’t have access to high quality care. I want patients to have the confidence to feel they will receive respect and dignified healing.”

Through Unified Steps, Baltimore Community Engagement Walks, and Diversity Beats (an internal listening tour), and other activities and initiatives, Page has taken an aggressive approach to provide a remedy to cure what he feels is ailing the world famous institution and the community.

“We have to break down the misconceptions,” said Page. “Many employees drive from their suburban communities, but work in this community. Through Baltimore Engagement Walks, we want the employees to get out in the community, and understand what our neighbors are doing. We are trying to shift behavior habits and culture across Hopkins.”

Page has also accepted the role of conducting one of the most in-depth and comprehensive studies of health disparities amongst minority communities. Beginning locally within the surrounding Baltimore communities, Page and his team hope to replicate the research study across the U.S. to better understand and address the health crisis plaguing minority communities in this country.

“It’s about being responsible to our citizens and our neighborhoods,” said Page. “How do we create programs that help us to actualize what Mr. Hopkins expected from this institution? We decided to take the letter Mr. Hopkins wrote about this institution when he decided to give money to start Johns Hopkins, and created a video to actualize the letter.”

In addition to the video, Page’s office also creates and distributes an Annual Report and a Multicultural Calendar, which includes a guide to the holidays and commemorative months observed by patients, families, faculty, staff and students from a multitude of races, ethnicities, and faiths.

“We have done a lot of things to create diversity throughout the organization,” said Page. “It’s nice to say here is a list of all we have done. However, it’s more important to have a story of what we have done to summarize the efforts of the institution.”

An engineer by training, Page holds an MBA from The University of Texas at Austin and a Bachelor of Science in Computer Technology from Purdue University.

His prior work garnered Dell, Inc. the Top Innovator in Global Diversity award, while his groundbreaking programs for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital led to its selection by Diversity, Inc. as one of the nation’s top four health systems for diversity.

“We are trying to make people aware of cultural nuances which may impact our ability to provide care,” said Page. “Health care is different. If you order a computer from Dell, the complication may be that the computer does not arrive. But with a patient, you can have serious complications and a person may die if you don’t know or understand their culture.”

Page is the recipient of the 2017 Senior Executive award from the National Association of Healthcare Executives and the National Diversity Council’s Diversity Champion award.

“Health disparity leads to poor outcomes,” said Page. “We have got to close these gaps as much as possible. There is no better tool than to say this is what Mr. Hopkins expected of this institution and live up to it.”

Former MLK aide celebrates civil rights icon

— Dr. Clarence Jones met Martin Luther King Jr. when he was 29 and King was 31. Jones joined King’s legal team in 1960 when the government accused the civil rights leader of tax fraud. The two formed a bond and Jones, who later became the first black man to make partner at a Wall Street investment bank, would go on to assist King in penning some of the most memorable speeches ever given, including: “I Have a Dream.”

Now, a visiting professor at the University of San Francisco and a writer-in-residence at Stanford University’s Martin Luther King Jr. Institute, Jones is preparing for another King Day in which he’ll pay tribute to his old friend.

“I think we have to be careful that we don’t fall into the trap of sanitizing Martin Luther King Jr.,” Jones said. “Particularly, we as African-Americans have to fight against this because the sanitized version is that he was someone who gave moving speeches and so forth. Indeed, he was, but make no mistake about it, that brother was deep.”

History has revealed that Jones’ admiration for King was mutual.

In 1962, King reportedly wrote a letter recommended Jones to the New York State Bar. In the missive, King wrote: “Ever since I have known Mr. Jones, I have always seen him as a man of sound judgment, deep insights, and great dedication. I am also convinced that he is a man of great integrity.”

Jones continued to function as King’s lawyer and advisor through the remainder of King’s life, according to the online “King Encyclopedia.”

He assisted King in drafting the, “I Have a Dream,” speech and preserving King’s copyright of the momentous address; acting as part of the successful defense team for the Southern Christian Leadership Council.

He served as part of King’s inner circle of advisers called the “research committee;” and contributed with Vincent Harding and Andrew Young to King’s “Beyond Vietnam” address at New York’s Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, Jones praised King as someone who had to deal with the “juggler vein of this system— power and money.”

He says King proved quite successful. “If you had media polls when the March on Washington happened in 1963, Dr. King would have had like a 70 percent approval rating because even white people loved him,” Jones said. “They’d say, ‘I’ve never heard a Negro speak like that before’ and he’s committed to nonviolence.”

Among those that King was able to influence to assist African-Americans in their struggle for freedom, justice and equality, was President Lyndon Johnson, Jones said. At one-point, King called Johnson the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln because of Johnson’s successful push for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, according to Jones.

“But, we had to tell him that he’s not being honest because we know how to count and when we looked at the Treasury, King told Johnson that ‘There’s no way in the world that you can spend all that money on the Vietnam War because there’s nothing left to do the things you said you want to do,’” Jones said.

“It was a practical thing. We understood that Lyndon Johnson had wrapped himself into this great 20th Century emancipator next to Lincoln and, don’t get me wrong, he was a bad dude. The ‘baddest’ dude there was in terms of Civil Rights,” Jones said. “But, he got lost because apparently he didn’t know how to count. King told him if he had 100 cents and spent 80 cents on the war, there’s only 20 cents left and that hurts us— our cause.”

Jones says King maintained a healthy respect and appreciation for the Black Press.

“The two essential pillars of support of the Civil Rights Movement was, first, the Black Church and then the Black Press,” Jones said. “The Black Press was very critical, very important.”

Dancer Misty Copeland inspires new generation of ballerinas

“This is for the little brown girls,” writes Misty Copeland in the prologue of her New York Times bestselling memoir, Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina, which chronicles Copeland’s turbulent life growing up as the fourth of sixth children to a single mom in a chaotic household in Southern California.

Despite the struggles and upheavals in her and her siblings’ lives, Misty was able to find her voice and herself through her discovery of ballet. She came late to the profession — she was 13 when she took her first ballet class at the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club in California. Within three months she was able to stand en pointe (dancing on the tips of her toes).

Copeland, in fact, was more than a natural at ballet, she was considered a prodigy and within a year she began performing professionally. At age 15, Misty won the Los Angeles Music Center Spotlight Awards in California and caught the attention of several major ballet companies — including the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the American Ballet Theatre and the San Francisco Ballet.

After graduating from high school at 17, Misty accepted an offer from the American Ballet Theatre (considered America’s top ballet company), to be a dancer in their Studio Company. Just two years later, she was promoted to ABT’s Corps de Ballet. And in 2007 at the age of 24, she became only the second African American soloist in the American Ballet Theatre’s history, and the first in more than two decades.

Inspired as a teen by famed ballerinas Gelsey Kirkland, Paloma Herrera, and Raven Wilkinson, whom she refers to in her memoir as “a guiding light in her life”, Copeland is very grateful for the many individuals who have inspired and helped her along the way. “Ballet has given me opportunities that I wouldn’t ever have had,” says Copeland.

A mentor to young female dancers, she’s also written her first children’s book called Firebird in collaboration with Christopher Myers, an award-winning author and illustrator. The book, which is beautifully illustrated, tells the story of a young girl whose confidence is fragile and who questions her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her that through hard work and dedication, she too can dance the part of the Firebird, and that she too will soar and fly.

“The idea for Firebird happened gradually. It came about before the memoir but they [Penguin] moved a bit slower,” says Copeland.

Christopher Myers told Penguin that he wanted to co-author the book with Misty, “but they didn’t know who I was” she recalls. “We hung out for the summer and the concept came from hanging out with me and Raven Wilkinson. He liked the relationship I had with Raven.”

The role of Firebird is special to Misty because she was the first black woman in history to play the title role at the Metropolitan Opera House in 2012. In her memoir, Copeland describes the Firebird “as a work that melds the most virtuosic parts of ballet with bravura solos that tell a story of spells, mystical creatures, and love triumphing over evil.”

In addition to her love of ballet, Misty is an ardent supporter, alum and an ambassador for the Boys and Girls Club. Misty is proud of the diversity initiative that is in the works with the Boys and Girls Clubs and with the American Ballet Theatre called Project Plié. The goal of Project Plié is to increase the ethnic and racial makeup in ballet. She says that it’s “still in the very beginning stages” but the idea “is to bring affordable top notch training to the clubs across the country.”

The world of ballet has afforded Misty many opportunities. She’s the latest female athlete to represent Under Armour in their campaign, I Will What I Want, and the sports apparel company is banking on Misty to inspire and empower a whole new generation of women athletes.

When asked what her advice would be to those brown girls who are struggling to find their voice, Misty says, “it’s important to know who you are. You’re going to be viewed by society by the way you look. Stand proud in those things but don’t let them become you. Don’t let others’ ideals box you in.”

Courtesy of The Bay State Banner

Firebird, published by Putnam Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group) is on sale beginning September 4, 2014.

Tony Dungy

Former professional American football player and coach in the NFL, Football Analyst, NBC’s Football Night in America

Tony Dungy is the No.1 New York Times bestselling author of Quiet Strength, Uncommon, The Mentor Leader, and The One Year Uncommon Life Daily Challenge. He led the Indianapolis Colts to Super Bowl victory on February 4, 2007, the first such win for an African American head coach. Dungy established another NFL first by becoming the first head coach to lead his teams to the playoffs for ten consecutive years. He retired from coaching in 2009 and now serves as a studio analyst for NBC’s Football Night in America. He is dedicated to mentoring others, especially young people, and encouraging them to live uncommon lives.

Personal Significance of Black History Month:

Growing up in the 1960s and seeing our country grow from the days where segregation was the norm to where we are now, Black History Month is very significant to me. My dad’s first teaching job was in a segregated high school in Virginia. I remember vividly as a young boy watching television and seeing the struggles of African American students who were trying to attend all white schools in the South. I can still hear my dad’s voice telling me about Joe Louis winning the Heavyweight Championship and Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in major league baseball. It’s much different in America today but Black History Month is a time for me to personally reflect on the men and women who paved the way for my generation.

Favorite African-American Icon and Why:

It has to be Dr. King. I was 8 years old when he gave the “I Have A Dream” speech and that galvanized my thinking. My mom and dad were always encouraging us to dream and think about our futures, but that was the first time I ever saw a black man on a national platform saying that. I was in junior high school when he was killed and, again, it impacted me that someone was willing to die for their convictions. In fact, Dr. King said he didn’t fear death and he knew he had helped our country, and African Americans in particular, in the fight for equality.

Favorite Moment in Black History:

There were a lot of significant moments but I’d have to say for me it was in 1966 Texas Western University, playing seven black players beat the University of Kentucky for the NCAA basketball championship. I was only 10 years old and didn’t understand the social significance until much later. Those seven African Americans were taking on the establishment and the tradition of Kentucky basketball, and as I look back that game changed a lot of things for college athletics and sports as a whole in our country. It also showed me that years later I could use the athletic field to make social and spiritual points.

Website: www.CoachDungy.com

Twitter: @TonyDungy