"My name is Gwendolene Mugodi and I am a writer and the founder of Paivapo Storytellers, a movement that aims to provide better access to local, good quality literature to the children in Zimbabwe--and eventually beyond. Our work would not be complete without the help of local artists like Abel Zvorufura who I met through the National Gallery of Zimbabwe. As two different artists we spent about a month and a half going back and forth on this book until we got to a place we were both happy with. I look forward to sharing that full book in a few months, but for now here's a little bit about Abel and why he does what he does."
Shades of Beauty
Yelitsa is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow and a children's illustrator from the Rhode Island School of Design. She is the founder of Healthy Roots, a toy company that designs dolls to celebrate the beauty of diversity and combat internalized racism and colorism. The Healthy Roots Kickstarter is currently live and they would love your support in promoting diversity in children’s toys.
I’ve never had a doll that looks like me.
Growing up, I never looked up to women that resembled anything related to blackness. Curly hair, brown skin, wide noses or thick lips. So no. I would not be playing with that brown barbie. She’s not the “real” one, she’s not the pretty one.
These were my thoughts growing up as a first generation Haitian-American in NYC. My school had been diverse, but I was often teased and mocked for my cornrows and full lips. These comments didn’t just come from my classmates, but they also came from my home. My mother is very fair skinned and my father is very dark skinned. That left me somewhere in the middle of the melanin limbo.
I remember how happy I was to go to Florida for vacation. When I returned my family didn’t ask me what I did, or about Disney World or anything about my trip. The first thing they did was turn to my mother and ask her “why did you let her get so dark?”. This is the reality for so many young girls of color, particularly black girls.
No one should feel less than because of the color of their skin or the kink of their curl. That is why I started Healthy Roots.
Healthy Roots is a toy company that creates dolls and storybooks that teach natural hair care in order to combat internalized racism and colorism. Because of these social issues, many girls resort to using dangerous chemicals like perms and bleaching creams to change their natural appearance in order to be “beautiful”.
I started the #LoveMyRoots campaign to understand the experience of young girls and get the perspectives of their mothers. Some of their stories made me think more about the impact that hair has in people’s perception of themselves and their beauty. One of our models had brought her sister, but she would not be participating. She was wearing a beautiful headscarf. I had no idea that under that headscarf she was hiding her story. When she was three, she began to lose all her hair. She developed alopecia, which is sudden hair loss. Her mother told me that all throughout elementary school, she had no problem going to school with her head uncovered, but at the start of middle school, that’s when she became sensitive to people’s eyes on her.
Eyes questioning, mouths asking, mocking and teasing.
So she found a new way to be beautiful. Headwraps gave her a new confidence.
As the girls get older, the weight of society bares down on them. Our younger models dance in front of the camera, beaming, while the older models have to be convinced they are worthy of being photographed. They have to be convinced that they are beautiful.
I will do whatever I have to do to convince them. There is no question whether or not you are beautiful. Beauty can not be measured by strands of hair or hours in the sun. We should be allowed to define beauty for ourselves. We know when we feel beautiful and that’s what matters. That’s what #ILoveMyRoots means to me.
So if you want to wear a headwrap, that’s fine by me.
August 11, 2016
June 13, 2016
Lauren Maunus '19 is starting a bold new venture.
Its goal: To help eliminate food waste and bring healthy, affordable food to "food swamps" in Rhode Island and beyond.
March 15, 2016"If little girls like me were saying Barbie is the pretty one and the brown one is the ugly one, that's a problem."
Yelitsa Jean-Charles studies Illustration at RISD with a a concentration in Gender, Race & Sexuality. She identifies as a visual activist, and believes that artists have a responsibility as society’s image-makers. Her doll company and book series, Healthy Roots, combats internalized racism and colorism by getting to the root of the problem: altering beauty standards and cultviating self-love for young girls through education, diversity, and positive representation.
March 12, 2016An Excerpt
Mina is a Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellow. She traveled to her home in Iran last summer and brought back a cultural souvenir: the book she wrote, Taste of Culture. She explores Iranian families, streets, stores and the stories and spirit embedded in the recipes of Iranian food. She hopes to start a conversation about the benefit of knowing cuisines of different cultures to connect societies.
This year's class of Brown-RISD Social Innovation Fellows have just begun their yearlong foray into the world of social entrepenuership. Check out their projects here.
December 16, 2015
Ria is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow and co-founder of No Country for Women (NCFW), an internationally-recognized gender education initiative that aims to combat systemic gender-based discrimination in India. Ria and her co-founder, Shreena Thakore ’16, who grew up in India, were awarded the Projects for Peace fellowship and used this grant to launch the project in May of 2014. NCFW was set up to educate the people in India on gender, rape culture, and misogyny through a series of workshops and initiate informed discussions about social change.
I was inspired by Ria’s story because she was determined to start a conversation about an issue in a country that fights hard to keep such issues silent and hidden. We reflected on Ria’s experiences, her interactions with young people, most of whom had never thought about this obvious form of discrimination before, and her moments of self-doubt and extreme conviction.
October 2, 2015