Couple empowers ‘pretty brown girls’

By: Jennie Miller | Southfield Sun | Published March 27, 2012

 Sheri Crawley and her husband, Corey, founded Pretty Brown Girl through the inspiration of their daughters, Laila, 7, and Aliya, 5.

Sheri Crawley and her husband, Corey, founded Pretty Brown Girl through the inspiration of their daughters, Laila, 7, and Aliya, 5.

Photo by Andrew Potter

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NOVI — Sheri Crawley, 39, of Novi couldn’t believe her eyes.

It was her daughter’s birthday party. She was taking a picture of her little girl and her friends, gathered together, each one smiling, each clutching a doll — any doll they wanted from the entire store.

Every doll chosen was white. All the girls were black.

“Nobody picked the black (dolls),” Crawley had noticed.

That moment stuck with her. A year or so later, after Crawley’s family had moved from Chicago back to Michigan, settling in Novi, she noticed her daughter becoming withdrawn socially. She clung to her mother more. She was the only black girl in her kindergarten class.

“Then she asked me to buy a certain shampoo after she saw a commercial for someone with blond hair, so she could look like that,” Crawley said, devastated for her daughter that she felt unhappy with her physical appearance.

Crawley’s husband, Corey, had lovingly referred to his two daughters as his “pretty brown girls” since they were born. But it seemed as though they weren’t getting the sentiment.

“We’d never really talked to the girls about ethnicity in relation to other people,” Crawley said, adding that they were always complimenting their daughters on their beauty, intelligence, sense of humor, etc. “It wasn’t enough what we were doing. It wasn’t sending the message.”

To further solidify Crawley’s feeling that something needed to be done on a grander scale, she and her husband watched a four-part report by CNN’s Anderson Cooper examining how children view skin color. The study — a re-enactment of a 1942 doll test — found that children, regardless of race, were biased toward lighter skin colors. They associated positive attributes with lighter skin, and negative attributes with darker skin.

“I was bawling watching them re-enact this test,” Crawley said. “They were asking which one was the prettiest, which one was the smartest.”

The children were picking the images of white people — even the black kids were.

“We didn’t make up the fact that this world is saying that dark is not beautiful, dark is not smart — that’s 400 years of messaging,” Crawley said. “It’s important to see and understand that study. … Black girls are feeling alienated because of the standard of beauty.”

The Crawleys went on to found Pretty Brown Girl, a company aimed at celebrating darker skin tones all over the world, uplifting self-esteem and boosting confidence. The product line includes dolls, apparel, accessories and now books.

“We saw that this was a movement,” Crawley said. “The problem is not having African-American dolls — there’s plenty of African-American dolls. The problem is that they’re not sending the message that they’re pretty.”

Crawley can pull from her own childhood as she furthers her company. Her first doll she ever had was a white doll. And when presented by her mother with a black doll, she cried and rejected it.

“I was upset as a baby because it wasn’t like the doll I was used to,” she said of the unconscious messages children are receiving. “You wouldn’t see a situation where a white child only had black dolls. A doll is meant to be a self-reflection. You want them to see who they are. It’s different than a stuffed animal or a comic book character. Especially from a nurturing standpoint for a little girl — she’s playing mommy to that baby.

“This should be a conversation,” Crawley continued. “We teach them crayon colors — so they’re not blind to it. They may not know how to articulate it, but when they walk into a room, they’re aware — just like with the crayon box — they’re aware (of the colors) in the room. And especially for a girl, when self-esteem affects things like relationships, career choices and overall success, if you don’t have confidence when you walk into a room (it can affect those things). We wanted to bring this conversation to the forefront.”

The company has also put on workshops for grade-school students at schools and churches to get the conversation started. But the lessons learned and the products themselves aren’t just for the black girls.

Crawley’s girls, Laila, 7, and Aliya, 5, now attend Southfield Christian School.

“The diversity is fabulous,” Crawley said. “The girls have brought their doll in for show-and-tell. It’s really been embraced, and that’s encouraging. Laila’s best friend is white, they sit together in class, and she wants a doll, too. We can’t bring adult issues to a child the same way we bring them to each other.”

Crawley said in her perfect world, when she goes back to that birthday party and takes a picture of the girls with their dolls, the dolls chosen would better reflect the world — there would be white dolls, black dolls, Asian dolls, Middle Eastern dolls — one of every ethnicity, and each would be celebrated.

Five percent of all online purchases is donated to Keep a Child Alive, a nonprofit organization founded by singer Alicia Keys that is dedicated to providing medicine to families with HIV and AIDS in Africa.

For more information about Pretty Brown Girl or to purchase products from the line, visit www.prettybrowngirl.com.
 

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