Jenifer Pierre is the CEO of Melanites and is celebrating brown boyhood. She has developed a toy doll for boys of color that will give children more options in the toy stores.
Her beautiful dolls help to build confidence and explore potential possibilities. Pierrie is not only creating a toy, she is on a mission to make a difference in the lives of young boys of color.
“At the center of everything that iam doing and with my background in volunteering and mentoring, celebrating brown boyhood is my objective. I’m more than just a toy company.”
College News recently spoke with Jennifer Pierre to discuss how she came to develop her smart and innovative toy. She informed us how marketing ploys effect children of color who have fewer options at toy stores and how her doll promotes a positive outlook on identity formation. Currently in the beginning phases, you can contribute to brown boyhood by visiting http://www.brownboyhood.com.
College News: I was on Facebook the other night and I saw an article about Melanites and brown boyhood. I wish I would have had a toy like this growing up! What inspired you to create this beautiful doll?
Jennifer Pierre: I’ve been interested in the toy industry especially dolls for a couple years now. Around Christmas time, I would go shopping for toys for family members and I couldn’t really find something that looked like me or them. Last summer when I was mentoring at the South Miami Career Center in Florida, I had a lot of interaction with young boys in the class room versus outside with their friends, and having conversations about what they wanted to be when they grow up. They really helped me to see that the messages they received were not very positive and what they aspired to be when they grow up was very limited based on that. I want to change that because I know how influential you can be to kids at a young age and how you can inspire them. That’s how I started Melanites. I really wanted to celebrate brown boyhood and encourage that time in development.
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CN: You speak about hyper masculinity and the effects of toys like guns and army dolls and you definitely present an alternative to that. When is Melanites expected to release the toy in stores?
JP: Right now in the summer I’m currently in an incubator with Boston College and I’m working on manufacturing right now! I hope that they hit the shelves by early fall. They could be available for Christmas even!
CN: Melanites has developed accessory kits for the doll. Could you tell me a little more about them?
JP: Yes, that is one of my favorite aspects of the doll. These were ways I could help encourage kids who dream big. Every kit is going to be centered around that theme so that they could learn about different fields and use that education as well to inspire them too!
CN: So the Melanites accessory kits help to build different personas and identities, such as the thinker, doer, maker, and performer characteristics. What made you decide on those building blocks?
JP: I didn’t want to tell kids what they had to be when they grow up. I didn’t want to say – oh you have to be a lawyer or you have to be a doctor. What I wanted to do was help them explore the world. I’m a big supporter of the idea that [students] have different aspects that they might be interested in. When I was mentoring, what I noticed was that if a young kid was interested in Basketball and he was interested in reading, he would separate those parts of himself; failing to mix those two aspects of his identity. It’s really just based on the stereotype that you are either a jock or a nerd. I really want to change that mindset and help kids embrace any part of themselves. I developed these different themes so that they can be more comfortable exploring.
CN: I’m sure you are aware of the studies that involve African American children identifying negatively with black dolls and associating the white dolls as better or more beautiful. What do you think contributes to that?
JP: Yeah I have heard of this study! I think it is both an absence and the fact the we only have one option. Let’s talk about diversity. When we go into the toy aisle regardless if it is for boys or for girls, there is only one option for us. With all those options that are on the shelves, the options for us are tucked away in the back. It represents all the cues of what it means to be brown or black and that’s just not enough. For an African American or Bi-Racial girl going into the toy aisles, all they are going see is this one token doll that might have long straight hair and green or purple eyes that does not resonate with them. Especially with boys who love super heroes and action figures going into that aisle, they are not going to see someone that is a hero that looks like them. They are more likely to see a villain or a character that is on the opposing side that looks like them they are a hero. That just regurgitates that message as you mentioned with the doll studies that we are somehow negative that we are somehow bad – quote, unquote – and that is not a positive message for a child. Because when they are looking around, they are trying to see someone who looks like them, what are they doing, how are they perceived? At the time, for some reason all the see are these values of how they could entertain by either being a rapper or how they can entertain via athletics either be being a Basketball player or a football player. There are not enough options for them to expand.
CN: Jennifer is there anything that you want people to know about your product that hasn’t been mentioned?
JP: I guess I want people to know that this project was started with a social mission attached to it and that mission is to celebrate brown boyhood. At the center of everything that iam doing and with my background in volunteering and mentoring, celebrating brown boyhood is my objective. I’m more than just a toy company. The purpose of the product is to empower young kids especially young boys of color. That’s my mission behind all of this. That’s how I want to impact the kids in my community. I’m looking to partner with non-profits like Big Brother Big Sister. Ive had conversations with them about workshops. Just how people think of the fable “Goldie Locks” as a means to teach and empower young girls to break stereotypes, I want to do the same thing for young boys of color and that’s why I started Melanites and why I’m celebrating brown boyhood.