Brooklyn Mack grew up in Elgin, South Carolina. He was just 12 years old when he went on a field trip to see the Radenko Pavlovich Dance Company perform. Instantly impressed with the athleticism of the dancers, he asked his mom to dance. His mother responded positively and championed on behalf of her son in order to secure a barre, a scholarship of sorts, which made it financially possible for her son to attend Pavolich’s school. “There was something about his eyes that was telling me that this kid is determined. That he will do whatever he puts his mind to,” said Pavlovich in a recent NPR interview. That recognition of determination talent made a world of possibility available to Mack who went on to study with the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, DC — winning medals at worldwide competitions.
On April 9, Mack, an African-American, joined Misty Copeland, also African American, on stage marking the first time that two African-American dancers starred in the Washington Ballet’s production of Swan Lake at the Kennedy Center in DC. Mack danced the role of Prince Siegfried and Misty Copeland danced the dual role of Odette and Odile. Copeland’s story of recognized talent despite financial struggle is similar.
Misty Copeland was at a Boys & Girls Club in San Pedro California where at 13 she joined her first ballet class. At the time, Copeland’s family lived in a hotel. The teacher of that class recognized something in Copeland immediately, and that was an extraordinary gift of dance. While the performance took place in Washington, DC, the applause was heard around the world. Another barrier broken. A set of seemingly insurmountable obstacles hurdled. Goals not simply set, but realized beyond wild expectation. Here at CHD, every day in our programs, and with financial support from a generous community, hundreds of young people are redirected on their own personal pathways to success. Young people like “William.”
At 13 William was first placed in juvenile detention following a charge of Assault and Battery. At 15, he was again arrested and sentenced to three years for home invasion and robbery. He served his time at CHD’s juvenile facility on Tinkham Road. “CHD was the turning point in my life,” said William. “They helped me face my demons and made me feel that I could really be someone. They kept me moving forward. Every staff person at CHD had something to contribute and recognized in me an ability to live my life differently. Because of their support I am a high school graduate and now enrolled in college. I’m not living the same life.”
At CHD, the present day for so many young people is not very different from Copeland and Mack’s past. Our youth, male and female, elementary school aged, middle, high school and young adults find their way to CHD from a variety of access points. Some are court referred, many are DCF involved, others because there is or never was a caring adult who looked long enough at these children in order to truly recognize the remarkable young people they are and the untapped talent which exists. The kind of perceptiveness children from the cruelest of situations long for, and which CHD unhesitatingly provides.
Whether it’s the social workers in our residential programs, our adolescent treatment clinicians, or our case managers offering home-based therapy, our dedicated staff see through the tough exteriors to reveal the potential which exists below a hardened surface. An angelic singing voice. A talent for writing. A genius with the computer. A baker, a runner, an artist. Every day, CHD recognizes potential, nurtures it and watches it blossom among a most vulnerable population.
While our programs may not employ famous dance coaches, we are fortunate to have the commitment, passion and concern of individuals who rise in the morning and retire in the evening with our clients always on their minds and the ways in which they will reach, engage, and motivate them to become successful, contributing men and women in our community.
On April 9, some may have been privileged to witness the barrier-breaking performance of Swan Lake, but here at CHD, we are fortunate to see first-hand the success of young people being played out every day on a different kind of stage – the stage of life.