Students Who Do Cool Things: Yelitsa Jean-Charles and the Healthy Roots Team

Did you ever visit a toy store as a kid, and notice that none of the dolls looked like you? If you’re a person of color in the United States, the answer is most likely a resounding yes. We care a lot about social change on College Hill, but it takes a special vision to change the market from the manufacturing side. That is exactly what Yelitsa Jean-Charles (RISD Illustrating ’16) is doing with her Healthy Roots Kickstarter.

From her own lived experience, Yelitsa knew just how much damage could be done to a young girl’s self esteem by society’s imposing beauty standards. Light skin, long blonde hair, blue eyes – the list goes on. In her own words, “Healthy Roots teaches girls of color self-love through education, diversity, and positive representation.” Right now, there are four girls: Marinda, who is Afro-Brazilian and loves soccer, Zoe, an African American with a zeal for learning and debate, Gaiana, who is Haitian and has a passion for music, and Dara, a Nigerian with a knack for coding websites. Together, they represent different corners of the African Diaspora, as well as a full-bodied image of ‘girliness’ that is so much more than fashion and appearance.

In differentiating her venture from anything else out there, Yelitsa told the Daily Dot:

“Black dolls already exist, but many of them only scratch the surface level of representation. You have to do more than paint a doll brown. We recognize that we need to have diversity and education in order to deconstruct colorism and racism. We do that by creating multiple dolls and storybooks that teach girls about themselves in a way that they can identify with.”



3-D Models

Alongside Jean-Charles, the team is comprised of Ingrid Nelson (RISD ’17) for Graphic Design, Anisa Holmes (RISD/Brown ’16) on Business Managment, Nitashia Johnson (RISD ’15) for Film & Photography, Zanya Harriott (Haverford ’14) with Events & Communication, and Zharia Shinn (RISD ’18) as Assistant Illustrator. Tying things back to campus, the team has participated in the Brown Social Innovation Fellowship, the RISD E’Ship Program, the Brown Breakthrough Innovation Lab, and the MassChallenge Accelerator Program. They also “[did] extensive research on the impact of dolls, race, and representation with several mothers and daughters to develop the best product.”

In an initial set, each doll will come with the Big Book of Hair, a care manual for kids with natural hair. The story book aims to teach young girls how to style, clean, and protect their natural kinks, so they feel beautiful just the way that they are. Along the way, they’ll read about different cultures, interests, and follow their character as “they face everyday insecurities.” The set will also include a Kreyol Essence natural haircare product!

Every level of funding for the Kickstarter has an incentive, from thank-you postcards, to illustrated e-books, t-shirts, and full doll sets. The women at Healthy Roots actually encourage people to think of this more as a pre-sale than a place for donations. With 13 days left to go, they have already reached two thirds of their fundraising goal. If the goal is met, an additional 2,500 dolls will be produced. As the company expands, they hope to create dolls for all different ethnicities.

For more information, and to get some Healthy Roots goodies, check out the Kickstarter page here. Also be sure to watch their awesome promotional video, as filmed in the Leung Gallery.

Image via.

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