A Part of History: Black Teen Ballerinas Reclaim Space Home to Robert E. Lee Statue With Photo Shoot

How does an image become a focal point of a national movement like that of Black Lives Matter? Two Virginia teens, Ava Holloway and Kennedy George, know first-hand what that's like because of the photo they took in front of Robert E. Lee monument.

How does an image become a focal point of a national movement like that of Black Lives Matter? Two Virginia teens, Ava Holloway and Kennedy George, know first-hand what that's like as their powerful photo in front of the prominent Robert E. Lee monument went viral. 

“I wanted to just take photos so that we would have a record of what would soon be gone from Richmond,” Ava, 14, said of what she called a “glimpse of the past.”

The two best friends, who have been dancing since they were both three, posed in front of a graffitied Robert E. Lee statue wearing their pointe shoes and dressed in black leotards and tutus. The photos that have since gone viral were captured by photographer Marcus Ingram.

“I think with bringing in the ballet aspect of it, it sparks people's curiosity,” Kennedy, also 14, told Inside Edition Digital. “I believe that when we were out there, even though it was just us in the picture, I feel like we were standing for more people than just ourselves. It was for a bigger picture.”

The bigger picture, in part, is the call to remove the Robert E. Lee statue that’s been a focal point of Richmond since it was erected in 1890. For more than 100 years, it has represented racism to so many people because of what the American leader stood for. 

Lee, who was from Virginia, was the commander of the Confederate states army during the American Civil War. Eleven Confederate states wanted to separate from the rest of the country in order to keep slavery legal. 

A judge recently extended an injunction barring the state from removing it, but Virginia's governor has promised it will come down. 

“I just want to make sure that all Virginians know that as soon as we can, the Robert E. Lee statue will be removed from Monument avenue in Richmond,” Governor Ralph Northam said in court. 

The statue of Robert E. Lee is one of many historical monuments across the country many are calling to have removed. The movement comes as Black Lives Matter protests emerge across the nation after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. A 108-year-old statue honoring the “deeds of valor, sacrifices and achievements” of soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War was just removed in Beaumont, Texas. And in Raleigh North Carolina, three confederate statues were removed. 

For Kennedy, the future removal of the Robert E. Lee statue means something significant to her. 

“It made me feel accomplished in some way, because these protests are meaning something and they're doing things to make change,” she said.

“Oftentimes, Black women go unseen,” Ava and Kennedy’s moms Amanda Lynch and Chris George, wrote on a GoFundMe page created to support the teens’ academic and artistic pursuits. To date, it has raised more than $15,000. “We are thankful to each of you who sees the beauty and strength in our daughters.”

The photos that have since gone viral show Ava and Kennedy wearing black leotards, matching tutus and pointe shoes while posing in fifth position. Their arms are outstretched and their hands are curled into fists, symbols used both to support the Black Lives Matter movement and to signal Black Power. As significant as the monument the girls are seen posing in front of is the fact that they are Black dancers in a field in which many for years have hoped to see more diversity. 

“Black ballet matters!!!!” one donor wrote on their GoFundMe page. 

In June, at least six dance shoe brands including Bloch and Capezio announced they would add a more diverse color palate to their collection. Throughout their entire dance career, the teens have gone through a lengthy process to dye their shoes to match their skin tone. 

“I had to find this foundation that matched me and I had to apply the foundation with a makeup brush. It took so long and I had to make a lot of layers on it,” Kennedy said. “It was a lot of hard work.”

Now, there’s progression, both led by and benefiting from a younger generation refusing to live with anything less. The change is exhilarating for Ava and Kennedy, who have written a children’s book about their experiences this year called “My Ancestors' Wildest Dreams.”

“It's really exciting that you can see that the world is changing, the dance community is changing,”  Kennedy said. It's including everybody.”

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