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Celebrate Black Women Game-Changers With PushBlack And Bumble

Raven Wilkinson, ballet legend. Art by Patricia Cruz.

Raven Wilkinson, ballet legend. Art by Patricia Cruz.

To commemorate Black History Month and celebrate all things #BlackWomenBuilt, Bumble and PushBlack are teaming up to send you stories of powerful black women trailblazers to inspire you to make big moves.

Pioneering ballerina Raven Wilkinson's talent spoke for itself when she became the first black dancer to be signed to the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1955. Despite her ability, she faced perpetual racism and was forced to wear pale makeup in order to appear white.

She was even encouraged by her company to lie about her ethnicity, but refused to conceal her blackness. Eventually, Raven left the company, because being out of work was better than pretending to be someone she was not.

After leaving the Ballet Russe, she taught dance until the mid-1960s, when she signed with Holland’s National Ballet — a company that didn’t require she deny her blackness. Before her passing in late 2018, Raven Wilkinson went on to mentor Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be a principal dancer with the prestigious American Ballet Theater.

It’s only when we study the past can we create a better future. Sign up for more stories like this through PushBlack, a nonprofit media platform that sends you inspiring Black history and news stories beyond just the month of February.