Karyn Parsons, well-known for her role as Hilary Banks on the popular 1990s comedy sitcom, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” is aiming to both teach and empower children through the telling of less traditional stories of African American greatness. Her nonprofit organization is called Sweet Blackberry.
Parsons has been spending the majority of her time producing animated films that portray the stories of little-known, lesser-recognized black Americans who have attained great accomplishments and praiseworthy achievements.
She is currently running a Kickstarter campaign regarding the upcoming project she will be tackling, which happens to be a story about the life of Janet Collins, an African-American prima ballerina.
Back in the 1930s, when Janet Collins was only 15 years old, she received an invitation to dance for the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, after having auditioned for the highly prestigious company in Los Angeles, California. The one condition of the invitation—she would have to paint her skin white. Collins refused the terms of the invitation, but she eventually became the first ever black prima ballerina at the New York Metropolitan Opera House.
Unfortunately, Collins’ story is not often told, and it is known about by few, as are the stories of a plethora of other historical African Americans.
Parsons was quoted stating, “In the schools we pretty much learn about the same handful of stories of black people and accomplishments. And they are fascinating, great stories, but they’re the same ones. There are so many people who contributed to this country, who created the fabric of this country, which are not white. When we just relegate black history to February, for a short little 28 days we will talk about it, and you relegate it to a small, special ‘boutique’ history, you extract it from American history.”
She went on to add, “I think if children recognize early on the accomplishments of African Americans and their contributions to this country that are so significant…they’ll know that in themselves, and they’ll be empowered by it,” she said. “And also for children who are not black, it also makes them look at their friends and see black people differently than the way media presents black folks and their contributions.”
Parsons, along with her Sweet Blackberry organization has already animated numerous “shorts” about African Americans. One of these is a story about Henry “Box” Brown called “The Journey of Henry Box Brown.” Brown was a black slave who mailed himself to freedom. Another one of Parson’s animated short stories portrays the life of Garrett Morgan called “Garrett’s Gift.” Morgan was the African-American man who invented the traffic light. Parsons’ productions also include the talents of Queen Latifah and Alfre Woodard as respective narrators of the stories.
Parsons’ inspiration came, in part, from her mother, who headed the South Central, Los Angeles Black Resource Center.