Michaela DePrince then known as “Mabinty Bangurawas” was born in Sierra Leone in 1995. Soon after her birth, she lost both her parents to the civil war in her country and was placed in an orphanage. At the orphanage, DePrince’s nightmare started.
DePrince suffered from vitiligo, a condition where the skin loses pigment cells and as a result loses its color. The condition caused DePrince’s neck to develop white spots which subjected her to a lot of ridicule and name-calling from her community. Her only friend was another girl with the same name as her, “Mabinty”.
Because of her condition, she was labeled as the “Devil’s Child,” and no one would adopt her. DePrince recalled her terrible experience in the orphanage saying, “They ranked us. Number one was the favorite child, and number 27 was the least favorite … I was number 27.”
“They kept saying, ‘Why would somebody want to adopt the devil’s child?’” she told Today.
DePrince spent a lot of days hungry and starving because of the neglect she faced. Her life seemed hopeless until she randomly came across a picture of a ballerina in a magazine.
She shared in interviews, “It was not just the fact that she’s a ballerina. It’s that she looks happy. And I wanted to be happy,” she added, “if what she was doing made her happy, that’s what I wanted to do.”
When she was three, tragedy struck once again. A 3-year-old Michaela was stabbed in the stomach by rebels.
But her luck was about to change. An American woman was on her way to Africa to adopt Michaela’s friend Mabinty. There was confusion on the orphanage’s end and they called Elaine to clarify which “Mabinty” she planned on adopting.
When Elaine DePrince found out Michaela was an orphan who already had been rejected 12 times, she decided to adopt both the girls, naming them “Michaela” and “Mia”. She told her husband about adopting two girls after she had already signed the papers.
The DePrince’s were not strangers to adopting. The couple had earlier adopted three boys from overseas. All three of their adoptive sons suffered from hemophilia.
Elaine was always on top of the special care her sons required of her. But tragedy struck when their blood product was affected by HIV. At the time, medication for the virus did not exist and the family lost all three of their sons.
This prompted them to adopt again. This is when the couple adopted a four-year-old Michaela DePrince in 1999. Once adopted, she immediately told her adoptive parents of her dreams to dance.
Her adoptive parents encouraged DePrince’s interest in dancing wholeheartedly. Elaine DePrince and her husband drove her to dance classes themselves and nurtured her interests. It took a while for Michaela to accept their unconditional love and support.Michaela recalls feeling scared that she would lose her new life. She said in an interview, “I used to have to sleep with the light on. I was just terrified that if I turned it off when I would wake up, I would be in the orphanage again.”
She found that her skin condition was an issue in her career as a dancer. But Elaine DePrince told Michaela to soldier on and that her white spots were actually pixie dust!
In June 2020, Michaela lost her adoptive father and promised to dedicate all her performances to him. She wrote a heartfelt tribute to him, saying that her future husband would have high expectations to meet because of the example her father had set for her.
“When I was eight years old, this teacher said, ‘You know, we don’t put a lot of effort into the black ballerinas because they all end up getting fat and having big boobs.’” DePrince told NBC in 2017.
But Michaela wouldn’t let some ignorant teacher decide her destiny. She persevered and all her years of hard work paid off with her successful career.
At the age of 17, she started to work with the Dance Theatre of Harlem in New York City.