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How Ballerina Paige Fraser Rose To The Top Of Her Industry Despite Her Scoliosis Diagnosis

Human Interest

We are all blessed with gifts that are innate and undeniable. However, sometimes, life's twists and turns can make us feel robbed of our talent and opportunity.


Consequently, we are seemingly forced to forfeit our dreams to the many misfortunes we encounter along our journey. For professional ballerina Paige Fraser, despite being met with obstacle after obstacle, she stands firmly in the face of opposition. She was built for this.

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The young dancer has an extensive resume that includes her work with Beyonce, BET, Intel, and a number of other industry giants but did not rise to fame without overcoming her own personal challenges. Paige first discovered her inclination toward dance at just four years old, and had decided to become a professional dancer by the age of 10. After becoming the first African-American girl at her studio to play the lead role in The Nutcracker, her career path was set, and it was clear that Paige would be a force to be reckoned with.

At the time, the vivacious preteen had no idea that less than five years later, she would receive a diagnosis that would change her life forever. She told xoNecole, "I was diagnosed with Scoliosis when I was 13. I had just started attending the Professional Performing Arts High School where I would receive free dance training at the prestigious Alvin Ailey School in Manhattan. As you can imagine, this was a very tough thing to deal with as a freshman in high school."

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Scoliosis is a disorder that causes an abnormal curvature of the backbone or spine that occurs most often during or right before puberty. Upon diagnosis, the condition put her lifelong dream of a dance career on hold, and doctors recommended surgery. This was understandably devastating to the aspiring dancer who recalled, "I remember hearing the words surgery come out of the doctor's mouth. I cried like a baby as he described that surgery would consist of putting metal rods in my back, affecting my range of motion. I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer and having spinal mobility was imperative."

"I cried like a baby… I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer and having spinal mobility was imperative."

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Luckily, Paige's parents were a strong support system who were empathetic of her love for dance, and understood that invasive surgery would stifle her opportunity to practice her craft forever. With their support and against her doctor's wishes, their family sought alternative solutions. "We found a Chiropractor in NYC (Dr. Alex Eingorn) who adjusted my spine twice a week. He also suggested I wear a back brace; one that I would wear to school and one that I wore to bed. I was only able to take my brace off when I was training in dance. Those were the best hours of my life."

With persistence, dedication, and the support of a teacher who had also been diagnosed with scoliosis, Paige became a master of her craft. The Bronx-born dancer says that since her diagnosis, her physical imperfections have only fueled her desire to conquer the challenges that had once tried to conquer her. "My drive fuels me even when the days are hard and dark. Each day is another chance to strive to be better than yesterday. Do the work and stay in your lane and remain in faith that it will always work out as it should."

Despite her queen-like stature, persistent hustle, and fearless demeanor, Paige, like most of us, had to learn to find resolve in rejection. The 27-year-old creative professional said that it was only after learning how to manage constructive criticism and defining her purpose that she was able to ditch the idea of giving up to reach her fullest potential.

"As artists, we deal with a lot of rejection," she explained. "Over the years, I have developed a tough skin. Being a professional dancer is very humbling. There are going to be moments when you don't get the job you want or a specific role in a piece. What keeps me going is remembering why I started and thinking back to the beautiful moments make it all worth it. I also grew to understand that timing is everything."

"What keeps me going is remembering why I started."

When you realize your purpose, you have the power to be unstoppable. The 10-year-old girl who once played Clara in The Nutcracker, was later diagnosed with a life-changing physical disorder. Now, that same little girl has has graced some of the biggest stages the world has ever seen. "By fully trusting in my path, I can avoid stressing over what is next or comparing myself to others. Days when I want to quit, I quickly remind myself that I have persevered my whole life, and I'm built for this."

Despite the bumps and bruises that she's acquired along her path to success, Paige was prepared for the ride before she even got in the car. She said that even if you don't quite know where your destination is, if you continue to walk in purpose, you'll end up exactly where you should be.

"Life is going to throw you a lot of curveballs, but it is how you respond to them. As I said earlier, being a dancer is not easy but if you love it, you will find ways to navigate through. For those dealing with a Scoliosis diagnosis, reach out to others who are in the same boat. There is a huge Scoliosis community and now, with social media, it is easy to connect. No one should suffer alone. Remind yourself everyday you are beautiful, strong, and unique. Having Scoliosis is not the end of the world and everyone has something they are dealing with."

"Having Scoliosis is not the end of the world and everyone has something they are dealing with."

We can all learn a lesson or two from Paige, who used her obstacles to create a platform. Now an advocate for Scoliosis, as well as a major player in the dance industry, Paige seeks to use her story to inspire other women. "I hope that my story inspires people to never give up. I am a black girl from the Bronx who has dealt with many challenges, but I chose to persevere through it all. I refuse to let anything hold me back. I am guided by my purpose and I want to give back to the next generation. I want people to look at my story and be inspired to go after their dreams. Nothing about me is perfect. I am unique."

"I refuse to let anything hold me back. I am guided by my purpose."

This year, Paige plans to raise awareness for Scoliosis on an even larger scale with the launch of her foundation. The Paige Fraser Foundation is dedicated to giving inner city students with or without physical challenges a safe space to study art.

Paige is a reminder to be diligent with the gifts that we are given. Many times, the fruits of our productivity aren't meant for self-nourishment, but to feed others. It is your responsibility to use your gifts, despite your personal challenges and obstacles. She proves that if you continue to walk in your purpose despite life's curveballs, you can ultimately win the game.

For more Paige, follow her on Instagram.

*Featured image of Paige by Melika Dez for The Black Iris Project

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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