Opinion: Misty Copeland to Bring Message of Female Empowerment to Connecticut

Apr 25, 2023

In a piece published by the CT Insider, the Director of our Fund for Women & Girls, Mary Grace Pagaduan, discusses the powerful message of female empowerment our keynote guest Misty Copeland will bring to the FWG 2023 Luncheon, a benefit event that is now marking its silver anniversary. 

This year, for the 25th anniversary of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Fund for Women & Girls Luncheon on April 27, celebrated ballerina Misty Copeland will come to Fairfield County to share her inspiring story.

Copeland’s remarkable achievements as the first Black woman to be promoted to principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre is more than enough to make her an in-demand speaker.  Yet, there’s a special aspect of Copeland’s narrative that made her the perfect voice to highlight the empowerment — and power — of women at our event.

The special something is Copeland’s inspiring relationship with another groundbreaking ballerina, Raven Wilkinson, who in many ways is ballet’s Jackie Robinson. Wilkinson was a trailblazer in the all-white ballet world in the 1950s and ’60s, creating magic on the stage in the face of overt racism, hostile crowds and even death threats.

Because of the unique intergenerational relationship she forged with Wilkinson, Copeland didn’t have to go it alone. Copeland delves deep into the relationship in her bestselling book “Wind at My Back,” a memoir centered on the mentorship and shared experience that enriched the lives of both women.

What transpired between the two ballerinas in many ways captures the essence of what the Fund for Women & Girls is all about. A quarter century ago, a group of community-minded Fairfield County women joined forces with the aim of improving the lives and opportunities of the girls and young women of the next generation.

We honor the benevolent spirit of those founding females every year at the Fund for Women & Girls luncheon with the Anne S. Leonhardt Award, in hopes of inspiring the next group of female philanthropists. This year’s award recipient, Emily Tow, president of The Tow Foundation, will be recognized for her unwavering resolve to promote women’s economic progress and equity through her family’s foundation.

The Anne S. Leonhardt Award is also a reminder of how far we’ve come since that small group of women first planted the seeds for the Fund for Women & Girls 25 years ago. Since then, it has grown into the largest fund for supporting women in all of New England. It’s a cornerstone of the work of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, embodying our mission of creating a community where every person has an equitable opportunity to thrive.

The fund has helped empower thousands of women and girls by seeding innovative programs such as the emme coalition, expanding access to critical health and education programs, creating pathways to economic opportunity and combating gender-based violence.

While much has been achieved, the fund’s mission remains as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. We were reminded of that with the recent release of the 2023 Fairfield County Community Wellbeing Index report that found stark disparities for many women in our community.

For instance, infant mortality rates for Black babies stand at 9.2 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to just 2.7 for white babies. Similarly, low-weight births for Black babies are twice that of white babies, and the share of births with late or no prenatal care is twice as high for Black mothers than white mothers.

Troubling statistics such as these should alarm everyone in our community. And they underscore the need to build on our work that has been supported through the Fund for Women & Girls.

As we begin a new chapter in our work at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation, the Fund for Women & Girls will play an important role in supporting our efforts to ensure that every woman and girl in Fairfield County:

  • Can graduate with a high school degree and be prepared for post-secondary education and a rewarding career.
  • Has equitable access to entrepreneurship and employment skill-building opportunities to achieve financial self-sufficiency and build assets.
  • Has equitable access to high-quality, culturally competent physical and mental health services.
  • Has safe, stable and affordable housing in communities of opportunity.

The value of supporting local programs, initiatives and organizations can’t be overstated. And it offers another example of where Misty Copeland’s story intersects with our work and mission. Copeland got her start dancing at The Boys & Girls Club in Southern California.

Now the Boys & Girls Club may not generally be viewed as a launch pad for world class ballerinas, but as Copeland emphasized in an interview with CBS News, that’s not the point.

“Just the incredible encouragement that these community centers offer to children, it doesn’t matter what they go off to be,” Copeland said. “They’re giving them confidence-building tools to be able to be successful in the world and to go on and have great futures.”

Encouragement. Confidence. Great futures. Instilling those characteristics in girls and young women in Fairfield County is the heart of the Fund for Women & Girls.

Misty Copeland offers living proof of the transformative power of community support and compassionate mentorship. As we look to move Fairfield County forward, her story can serve as an inspiration for all of us to do our part to help all women and girls in our community unlock and fulfill their potential.

Originally published on CT Insider on April 19, 2023.

Join us in person at the Greenwich Hyatt or virtually via our live stream for our Fund for Women & Girls 2023 Luncheon! Get inspired by keynote speaker Misty Copeland, learn about our newest signature initiative, and support women and girls across Fairfield County in achieving their best lives. Learn more and get tickets.