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First, her skin wasn’t black enough. Then it was too dark. But this History Hero’s gifts demanded that she be judged by the content of her character, not her color. Now at 24, she’s a star ballerina and a role model, busting stereotypes of conventional beauty as well as race.
Mabinty Bangura was born on 6 January 1995, during the civil war in her native Sierra Leone — a West African country that was once a gateway for the slave trade. Orphaned at the age of 3 when her father was killed and her mother perished from starvation, Mabinty was then shunned by her community due to a skin condition that turned her dark skin white in patches.
At the age of 4, Mabinty's orphanage was bombed, forcing her to flew with other unwanted children to a refugee camp. Though young and scared, she had hope in her heart: she’d recently seen a magazine cover featuring a beautiful ballerina en pointe and she carried the image with her in her imagination, determined to one day be a dancer.
In 1999, her luck turned when a Jewish couple from Cherry Hill, New Jersey adopted Mabinty. She joined the the DePrince family as Michaela, the 8th of 11 children, nine of whom were adopted.
Michaela’s new parents were happy to foster her passion for ballet. And she worked hard. At 17, she was the youngest dancer in company history to perform with the Dance Theatre of Harlem. At 18, she joined the Dutch National Junior Company, then the only dancer of African origin. At 23, she was a soloist with the Dutch National Ballet.
Her rise to the top may seem swift, but it was not without the difficulties associated with racism. At 8, Michaela was denied the part of Marie in THE NUTCRACKER on the grounds that “America was not ready for a black girl ballerina.” A teacher once cautioned her mother that black dancers were not worth investing money in.
Now 24-year-old Michaela dePrince is a beacon of hope for young women all around the world. 2014 saw the launch of her memoir, TAKING FLIGHT: FROM WAR ORPHAN TO START BALLERINA (Knopf Books). And since 2016, she's been a Goodwill Ambassador for the Dutch organization, War Child.