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Pretty Brown Girl, More Than A Brand, A Movement?


When Corey and Sheri Crawley's oldest daughter, Laila, started kindergarten, she started to behave in a way that was strange for her. The previously outgoing five-year-old became shy. She started to ask her parents to make her hair look like the other girls in her class.

Corey and Sheri suspected her change in behavior was because Laila was the only African-American girl in her class. Rather than accept it or ignore it, the Crawleys decided to do something about it. They made it their mission to promote a positive self-image for their daughters, and that mission has turned into something larger.

Last year, the couple launched Pretty Brown Girl. It's a brand for girls of color. The idea is to combat negative images of women and girls of color with the simple affirmation Pretty Brown Girl. The brand has clothing, wristbands, backpacks and a doll, but the founders hope that it is more than a brand, that it is the start of a movement.

And here to tell us more are Corey and Sheri Crawley. They are the husband and wife team that founded Pretty Brown Girl, and they're with us now.

Welcome to you both. Thank you so much for joining us.

SHERI CRAWLEY: Thank you, Michel, for having us.

COREY CRAWLEY: Thanks for having us, Michel.

MARTIN: So, Sheri, why don't you start? Talk to us about the motivation to start the brand. I mean, was it something that just came to you, kind of in a eureka moment? Or how did it start?

CRAWLEY: Actually, a little bit of the eureka moment, but also through a series of life events. As you mentioned in the introduction, our daughter was starting kindergarten, but we had transitioned from downtown Chicago, being very diverse and populated with people of all different ethnicities and backgrounds, and we moved to a suburb of Detroit, which is predominantly Caucasian and other ethnicities.

But before our transition, we had taken the girls to a very popular doll store for a birthday party that we planned for our youngest daughter and all of the girls - we had brunch there and during the course of the brunch, the girls were able to choose the dolls that they would like to have brunch with from a wall full of dolls. And all of these girls were African-American and not one of them picked a doll that looked like them. That really kind of stuck with me. I have a picture of all these beautiful African-American girls sitting there with dolls that were, you know, blonde-haired or red-haired, but none of the ones that looked - reflected their own image.

MARTIN: That must have been a tough moment for you, Mom.

CRAWLEY: Yeah. It was a tough moment because I don't think that there's a lack of dolls. I think that the real question is, why are we not seeing ourselves being reflected in a way that we would want to be like ourselves from a doll's standpoint? More than a toy, a doll is a reflection of self.

MARTIN: Let me jump in and ask your husband Corey this. Corey, when you - I don't know if you were there that day, but how did you feel when you heard this?

CRAWLEY: But, you know, I was hurt because ever since our daughters were born, I called them pretty brown girls, because I wanted them to feel good about the skin that they were in and to be prepared for being in situations where they were the only ones that reflected themselves. And so I wanted to internalize them with the message that, you know, you're pretty already, inside and out. And so, you know, it was kind of disturbing once I heard the story, and I was kind of shocked.

MARTIN: It begs the question, though, and this whole doll issue that you're describing is not new. In fact, the selection of the doll is kind of a central motif in one of the pivotal, you know, legal cases affecting African-Americans in this country, which is the Brown v. Board of Ed case. That was some of the research that was presented to the court in support of...

CRAWLEY: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...school integration, or rather, I should say, desegregation. This famous experiment conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clark where the same exact thing happened, where, you know, African-American girls selected dolls that didn't look like them and they were told - and they said that the dolls that did look like them weren't as pretty and so forth.

And I wonder what you think it means that all these years later you still had a similar experience.

CRAWLEY: Well, I think even too - you mentioned the test with Dr. Frank and Mamie Clark, but then also Anderson Cooper did a similar study in 2010 on CNN and it showed - not even just African-Americans, but across the board, children in general of all different ethnicities, ethnic backgrounds, racial backgrounds, when given a choice, they were still choosing.

And I think that what we are looking to achieve with Pretty Brown Girl is having the communication.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. My guests are Corey and Sheri Crawley. They are the husband and wife team behind a company and a movement that they call Pretty Brown Girl.

Let me just ask you this because I understand you do have products that you're trying to sell here, but doesn't it suggest that it really isn't about stuff, because there are already dolls of color, pretty ones, nice ones, well made ones that exist. There's already stuff out there, so wouldn't it suggest that the experience that you had suggests that it really isn't about the stuff? It's about something else?

CRAWLEY: It's about the images and the messages that young girls are receiving, because understand, there's a void out there. There's a lack of self-messaging for young girls of color and that's why we celebrate the shades of brown all over the world. But if you think that someone else's light is brighter than yours, then it's hard for you to shine. It's hard for you to put your best foot forward.

MARTIN: What are some of the other things that you are encouraging parents to do, Sheri? What are some of the other suggestions that you're making as part of your movement to get young girls to embrace their pretty brown selves?

CRAWLEY: It's really about the communication, the one-on-one. The discussion about ethnicity, I think, at an early age is very important. I think that sometimes parents - I know for ourselves, we avoided that. We would speak about our history. We would speak about our heritage.

But when we developed our Pretty Brown Girl pledge and the pledge became really the anthem of our entire brand that girls - they pledge that they will dream big, that they remember that they're beautiful inside and out, that they always believe in themselves, making healthy choices, and that they are winners and they can do and be anything that they would like to be.

MARTIN: Sheri, you know, you've made me think about something interesting. You were saying that you and your husband talked to your girls about, you know, achievement, about being good people, about honoring their history, but that the - kind of the prettiness piece was something that you hadn't really thought much about. And I wonder if there are other people of color who have kind of not so much focused on the beauty aspects of it, but perhaps in the quest to kind of focus on the interior world, that perhaps people like yourselves who care about these issues haven't focused as much on saying, you know, pretty is good. Pretty is OK and you are pretty too. I don't know. I'm wondering if any of this sort of changed...

CRAWLEY: Absolutely.

MARTIN: ...the way you think about beauty.

CRAWLEY: In a way for me, I think, it levels the playing field. I think if, as a woman, when you walk into the room, whether it's the boardroom or classroom, and you know who you are and you believe in yourself and you have that self-confidence and that positive self-image, but if you're walking into the room with your head down because you don't feel that you're up to par, that based on what society has set as the standards - so absolutely, it's important for us to verbally say and very directly say to our girls that you are beautiful so that they won't even have to think about that.

Our movement has become equally as effective and as impactful to grown women. We sell as many 3X t-shirts as we do size four or fives because we all have those individual experiences from when we were little girls, and even though we're older, we still pull on those experiences that we were - as we were children that told us that we weren't good enough, that we weren't pretty enough.

And that doll - when they said, which one is the pretty one, and they picked to the European features and they said, which one is the ugly one and they picked to the black features, and then they said, which one looks like you, which one looks like you, and for that child to have to hesitate and then pick the one that she just said all those negative qualities about is heartbreaking for me as a mom, but as a black woman as well.

And so, you know, we have to think about - these things are real and they impact the very fiber of our country and globally in our world.

MARTIN: Corey and Sheri Crawley are the husband and wife team and the founders of Pretty Brown Girl. They were kind enough to join us from member station WDET in Detroit.

Sheri and Corey, thank you so much for joining us.

CRAWLEY: Thank you, Michel.

CRAWLEY: Thank you so much for having us, Michel. We appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.