My mother instilled in me a desire to succeed. She knew that education was everything, and it was never a question that I would go to college, which wasn’t the norm in my family. I’m proud that I grew up in the projects, and I still don’t live far from them.  My mother is my mirror. 

I auditioned for Alvin Ailey in 1986. That started my career at Ailey. I just celebrated my 31st anniversary. I’ve held three different positions at the Ailey company since I retired from dancing, and each lasted about six years. This is my 18th year in arts and education after 12 years of performing. I went from director to co-director of AileyCamp and spokesperson and master teacher for arts and education in community programs. 

I have been guided and encouraged by women—my mother, my grandmother, my dance mentor, and the women in the Ailey company—throughout my life. I was taught I should give back. They were all very strict but in a loving way. They didn’t let you whine and complain. It was really about doing your best,  and not expecting anything and working. At the time, it maybe seemed harsh—– but it is a hard world. This philosophy definitely prepared me for the work I am doing now with young people.  

Sometimes you want to be the person who does the encouraging. Other times, there are people there encouraging you. I tell young people all the time that mediocrity is rampant. It is not enough to to be just OK. You should always want to be the best and give and do the best. It takes a lot of work. For some people, things fall out of the sky and they become a star or get a scholarship. You don’t want to look for things like that. You want to hope that your work and everything you get will come from the fact that you are working. And, you don’t expect anythingthings to be handed to you.

This is an excerpt from a comprehensive interview.