2016 Regions Riding Forward® Winning Essay by Marissa F.
"Remember dancers, diversity is a core value that nurtures a dynamic and inclusive learning environment." These words perpetually run through my mind and will be engrained in my memory forever. Dr. Gaynell Sherrod instills such principles in me and other dance majors at Virginia Commonwealth University by constantly emphasizing the importance of diversity. Dr. Sherrod is the chair of the Dance Department at VCU. She has overcome great adversity throughout her life as an African-American woman.

 Primarily, as a minority in the field of dance, Dr. Sherrod grew up hearing that she could never be a dancer because of the color of her skin. She had to work twice as hard as everyone else to even get acknowledged. Her hard work eventually paid off and she was hired by the Philadelphia Dance Company as a professional performer. From there, her career launched. She taught at many universities and worked with various professional dance companies before she became the director of the New York City Department of Dance Education.

 With this title she worked to better dance education in public schools in New York City. Presently, I am lucky enough to have Dr. Sherrod as a teacher and a mentor at VCU. Dr. Sherrod constantly preaches the importance of diversity and, with her lessons, she has created an inclusive learning environment in the VCU Dance community. I admire the work the Dr. Sherrod has done and I now understand the value of diversity much better than I did before coming to VCU. In addition to emphasizing the importance of diversity, Dr. Sherrod is adamant in encouraging individualism as well as striving to reach one’s full potential.

 She has helped me find my voice and discover my potential as a dancer as well as a human being functioning in society. Dr. Sherrod motivates me to work hard to achieve my dreams. Because of Dr. Sherrod, I am a better person in that I am much more sensitive to the topic of diversity. In the future, I would love to have a career path based off of her lessons of inclusion. My plan is to open a dance school geared towards teaching underprivileged children dance. Like Dr. Sherrod, I will foster an inclusive learning environment at my school that encourages creativity and individualism. I will help underprivileged children understand their value in the world and I will encourage them to find their voices. My goal is to open up their eyes to the world and to positively influence their lives like Dr. Sherrod has positively influenced mine.

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