Black representation in toys is one way to fight racism. When children see their beauty and shine in the toys they play with, it builds their confidence and encourages positive play.
Children learn by playing. The more diverse the toy box, the better they learn about diversity, inclusion, family dynamics, and how to navigate the world. The eye-opening 1940s study by Kenneth and Mamie Clark used dolls to investigate how young black children perceived their racial identity. They found that, given the choice between black dolls and white dolls, most black children favorite to play with white dolls.
Since that study, many ethnic and racially diverse dolls have made their way onto the toy shelves of major retailers. Companies like World of Entertainment, Publishing and Inspiration have given children, girls and boys, the opportunity to see themselves in dolls that look like them.
Dr. Lisa Williams, founder of World of PPE, helps children embrace their beauty, uniqueness and positive game through the representation of the doll. As the creator of the largest multicultural, black-owned doll company, she spreads joy by providing children with dolls that inspire dreams, foster intelligence and boost self-esteem. Her award-winning Positively Perfect Dolls have unique faces and custom skin tones with natural hair textures and styles. The collection has more than 65 dolls representing black, brown, mixed race and mestizo children. The line of dolls is distributed in national mass retail stores, including Walmart, and in international markets. She recently teamed up with Disney and Marvel to create a line of dolls for Marvel’s Black Panther: Wakanda Foreverfor which she just received the highest honor in the industry, the doll of the year.
“It’s heartbreaking if you think a six or seven year old didn’t believe or see their own beauty and shine,” William shares in reference to an updated doll study. “It affected me so much then, and it affects me now. I was that little girl. The difference is, I had a mother who told me I could be anything. what at that age. And somehow, she [the girl interviewed for the study] got a message while playing with her dolls and probably other societal messages that she wasn’t good enough. She was not pretty; his skin was dirty. It broke my heart. I remember laying on my couch and saying, ‘This can’t happen…’ So then I theoretically launched that day, the company, the World of PPE. We started with two dolls.
After earning her master’s degree, Williams realized she wanted to work with students. So she went back to school for her doctorate, focusing on logistics. She believed that the key to success in this business was trust; without trust in the supply chain, it collapses. She was the first African American to earn a doctorate. in Logistics from Ohio State University and became the first African-American woman to earn a position at Penn State.
Williams enjoyed the research aspect of her role in logistics and global supply chain. His work quickly became internationally recognized. She then accepted an offer from the University of Arkansas as an endowed chair, meaning the University would spend millions of dollars on her research and projects.
“I became the highest ranked person, not just the black one, not just the female, but I was the highest ranked person in my field,” she shares. ” I was having fun. I travel the world. I research all over the world. I share my findings with colleagues around the world, ranked nationally and internationally for my research productivity. When I say, life was beautiful. It was really good.”
Then one day she watched a news report talking about the doll study and similar recent studies. Still, more black girls preferred white dolls. That moment changed the trajectory of his career. In 2003, she resigned from her mandate. She waived the endowment. As a single mother, giving up financial security wasn’t easy, but Williams believed in the societal impact she envisioned and started the world of PPE.
She wrote the book Lead beyond excellence, where she interviewed Walmart CEO Lee Scott. He offered to sell the book in stores. This led to a conversation about turning his research into children’s books in which all ethnicities were represented. The management team even asked him to create dolls of the characters from his books. Although this was before she saw the doll documentary, that moment led to a partnership with the retail conglomerate, which helped Williams navigate the doll landscape.
The transition from teaching and research to owning a business was difficult. She struggled with loss of identity and redefined who she was beyond the classroom. She decided to start the business so as not to give up her ownership of the company’s vision. This decision had a cost; it had to file for bankruptcy at some point.
However, she remained steadfast. Williams and his team have grown the company into a multi-million dollar multicultural toy manufacturing and design company. Today, she offers six collections of dolls on her site and in store, including Rock The Bells by LL Cool J and the Fresh Fairies.
As Williams continues to grow her business, she is focused on the following critical steps:
- Know why. If it’s for the money, what if you fail? If it’s driven by passion, you’re more apt to take on challenges.
- Find out as much as you can about the position or industry before taking the risk. The better prepared you are, the greater the likelihood of success.
- Understand that just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It might just take a little longer.
“We have just started producing quality boy dolls,” concludes Williams. “These are action figures with modes. They are still very strong and powerful and masculine. I’m thrilled when I see a dad buying one of our dolls for his boys.