“To be a black ballerina today ... is extremely difficult. So I cannot imagine what it was like for Raven in the 1950s,” said Misty Copeland when reflecting on her friend, mentor and shero, Raven Wilkinson.

In 1955, Wilkinson became one of the first black women to dance with a classical ballet company. Pursuing a career in ballet during the Jim Crow Era was no sashay across the stage—Wilkinson had plenty of naysayers, and even a run-in or two with the Ku Klux Klan. Still, Wilkinson danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo for six years, and in that time was even promoted to soloist.

Copeland, who herself made history as the first black principal ballerina at the American Ballet Theater, learned who Raven Wilkinson was by watching a documentary on the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.

“Seeing her face on the screen, it was the first time I felt a true connection with a ballerina,” said Copeland. The two met in 2011, and through their relationship, Copeland says she became clear on part of her life’s purpose: “To tell the stories of all of these black ballerinas, especially Raven’s.”

For Women’s History Month, The Root is highlighting the stories of trailblazing women whose stories have gone untold with a series titled She Is _____.

She is Raven Wilkinson. Watch the entire video above.

Raven Wilkinson passed in December 2018. Misty Copeland will be holding a memorial service in her honor at the Abyssinian Baptist Church on March 25, 2019, from
6:30 p.m.- 8:00 p.m.