Sheri Crawley: The Mom Behind The Pretty Brown Girl Movement
When my beautiful brown-skinned, curly haired daughter began wanting straight blonde hair, I was utterly confused. Since birth, I’d spent time affirming her beauty and telling her that how wonderful and capable she is. And we live in Nassau, Bahamas where about 80% of the population is black! But it wasn’t enough to combat the messages all around her that were telling her that blonde–not black–was beautiful. I went searching for help and found Pretty Brown Girl.
Pretty Brown Girl is a line of dolls, tees and other products with the tagline “celebrating the shades of brown all over the world.” This brand was conceived by a mom that faced the same situation that I was battling. When Sheri Crawley and her family moved back to her hometown of Detroit from Chicago, they enrolled their oldest daughter Laila in kindergarten. Laila was the only black girl in her class and it began to take a toll on her self-esteem. Laila’s bubbly personality began to become more introverted and, like my daughter, she began to comment that she wanted long blonde hair.
During the same time period, Anderson Cooper on CNN 360 aired a series revisiting the Doll Test conducted by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark in 1943. The CNN research showed that little had changed. Many children still had a bias against brown skin tones. Sheri had also seen this for herself when planning a party for her youngest daughter Aliya at a popular doll store. Not one of the girls attending the party chose a brown doll. Sheri was shocked – and equally shocked to find that the only brown doll available in the store was a freed slave. Sheri and her husband were determined to make a change and they quickly got busy creating Pretty Brown Girl.
After only 3 years, the brand is thriving and has become a movement with more than 30 Pretty Brown Girl Clubs for girls in existence. I couldn’t help being curious about the mom behind the movement. So I jumped at the chance to interview her.
MN: What was your occupation before Pretty Brown Girl?
Sheri: I’ve been an entrepreneur for over 13 years. I’m a self-employed marketing executive for a health and wellness brand, but Pretty Brown Girl takes up the majority of my time.
MN: You could have done any number of things to boost your daughter’s self-esteem, but you chose to create Pretty Brown Girl. Why did you choose this route?
Sheri: I could relate to my daughters’ experiences. I’d experienced first-hand what it was like to be the only brown girl in various settings. The business was not only a way to help my daughters and girls who were faced with the same issues. It was also a way to reinvent myself after moving back to Detroit, and a way to continue the legacy that my mother started. In earlier years, my mother had been an author and motivational speaker. Pretty Brown Girl gives me a platform to motivate others.
MN: Pretty Brown Girl started as a brand focused around the doll. Now it’s become a nation-wide movement. How did the transformation take place?
Sheri: As soon as we started to sell the products, I started getting calls from people asking how they could join Pretty Brown Girl or volunteer. I was confused because in my mind we were a brand. After we began to take our products on the road to conferences, and I got the same requests it hit me! Pretty Brown Girl is more than a brand. It’s a movement that drives the products – not the other way around. Now we offer clubs, curricula, workshops, as well as our products.
MN: You just launched your clubs in February 2013, and now there are 30! What’s caused it to grow so quickly?
Sheri: I think it’s grown quickly because there hasn’t been a platform to talk about the elephant in the room. Before Pretty Brown Girl there wasn’t a formal opportunity to have a conversation about skin tone. This movement gives everyone an opportunity to talk about it from a celebratory stand point.
MN: What’s in the future for Pretty Brown Girl?
Sheri: I’d love to see Pretty Brown Girl become a household name. I’d also like to see us be aligned with major organizations for girls and a part of national conversations about girls and self-esteem. Everyone needs to know that brown girls are beautiful.
Yolanda Darville is a freelance writer focused on making a difference. She also co-leads the first Pretty Brown Girl Club in Nassau, Bahamas with her close friend. Connect with her on Twitter.