Doll E. Daze

"Celebrating Black history through the eyes of a doll collector" February 1st - 28th

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The Boston Globe March 2004


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 By Kate Sullivan Foley/ Correspondent


Friday, March 4, 2005
Stoughton Journal
Away with concerns ... free yourself of all anxieties ... that was the purpose of the worry dolls created by more than 50 children during a special workshop at the Stoughton Public Library.The free activity was part of Doll E. Daze, a non-profit project designed and presented by Mansfield resident Debra Britt. Started last year, Doll E. Daze brings dolls of all shapes, sizes and colors to more than a dozen local libraries during Black History Month. The program, focused on building self-esteem and promoting diversity, culminated with the workshop last Thursday.Britt, 49, brought the program to Stoughton because of the town's growing multi-cultural population.
"I want children to learn to accept people for their differences," said Britt, who told the children about her life as an 11 year old girl. "I was crying and I didn't want to go to school. I was short and people talked about me. I was fat and people talked about me. I was black and people talked about me. People made fun of me - I was not a good-looking kid."
Britt went on to tell the children "The Legend of Cecelia" - a young girl who was killed because of her differences. Cecelia, according to Britt, returned from her fate to take fears and burdens away from all children. The girl placed the worries in a vessel and delivered them to her father.
"Worries are for parents. It is the job of a child to explore and take risks," said Britt before instructing the children to take any worries they might have and use them to make their dolls.
The children dropped stones, symbolizing their worries, inside a soda bottle covered in fabric. These items provided the base for making the dolls. Using recycled items like chess game pieces, bottle caps, and CDs, as well as other items Britt and her sisters managed to get donated or find, the children created unique and colorful dolls.
Gluing decorations onto the dolls was the best part of the two hour workshop according to 6-year-old twins Taylor and Leanne Cross. Their mom, Laurie, said they have enjoyed many programs at the library over the years and thought this one was also great, especially the important message Britt delivered. "It got the girls thinking a bit," commented Cross. Colleen Gallagher, 6, who came with the Cross family, said she learned something from the presentation."Even if someone talks bad about you, you are still one of God's childs," said Gallagher.Kayla Millican, 9 1/2, who came with her mom Kathy and 5-year-old sister Shauna, wanted to make a doll to add to her collection."It's coming out pretty good - I might just put it on a shelf," said the fourth-grader, who added she learned, "Even if someone isn't with you, they can still help you."Kathy said she wasn't sure what to expect when they signed up for something extra to do during vacation. She ended up pleased with both the event and with Britt's underlying theme."She encouraged the children to accept everyone," said the mother, who also appreciated Britt's considerate guidance of the children. "She told them that there is no wrong way - their dolls were great no matter what."Britt moved about the room stopping at tables and individually working with child after child to help get their dolls just right. Her assistants - sisters, nieces and grandchildren - helped distribute supplies and hot glued items to the dolls. Funding for the project was provided by several sponsors including the Stoughton Cultural Council. Jessica Menice, 10, who came with friends, said she enjoyed the project and was pleased with how her doll came out. She also learned not to let others' opinions bother her.Michelle Ayochok brought her three daughters, ages 4 through 9, to the event. "It was a creative opportunity for the children - we had a lot of fun," said Ayochok. Mary Beth Pattavina brought her 3-year-old son Christian to make a doll for his sister who wasn't able to attend."She would have loved this - it's really neat," said Pattavina, who added her son was fascinated just looking at all the ornate dolls Britt displayed for the kids. Eight-year-old Celia Dolan said she enjoyed the Legend of Cecelia because of the name similarity. She said she learned it is important to be brave in life.Her mom Karen thought the message delivered was one both parents and children should hear."Children should have a chance to be children and not have to worry - that's our job as parents," she said. "We should do the worrying."






Family's exhibit of black dolls is no small exploit

By Matt Gunderson, Globe Correspondent, 3/21/2004

When her then-5-year-old said he didn't think Santa Claus 
was going to visit on Christmas Eve in 1998 because 
Santa wasn't black, Debra Britt's hobby of collecting dolls 
became a fight to preserve her child's pride. That year, she 
bought her son, Christopher, a number of black Santa 
Claus dolls, hoping to reshape his early perceptions about 
his race.

Today, Britt, a Dorchester native, and her family are 
broadening that message, displaying their collection of 
black dolls numbering between 5,000 and 8,000 in public 
libraries in and around Boston.

"I think it really raises self-esteem for a kid to see dolls 
that represent who they are," says Britt's sister, Felicia 
Walker, also originally from Dorchester.

The Doll E Daze Project, as the family calls it, has various 
themes. An exhibit in Egleston Square Branch Library 
features Raggedy Ann dolls. In the Mattapan Branch 
Library, Britt and her family have erected a display of 
vintage dolls, called "When We Were Colored," made 
between 1865 and the mid-1900s.

Dudley Branch Library is exhibiting dolls of modern 
celebrities, called "Dare to Dream." The largest display, 
called "Evolution," will run into late April in the Codman 
Square Branch Library in Dorchester, where Britt and her 
sisters have arrayed a potpourri of collectibles ranging 
from the 1860s to the present. In a long row of glass 
cases in the library, homemade Civil War-era dolls sit side 
by side with contemporary dolls, including those of 
Michael Jordan, rapper Snoop Dogg, and actor Samuel 
L. Jackson.

Walker says major doll companies have produced black 
dolls over the years, including Mattel, Inc.'s black Barbie 
in 1967, but the number of black dolls is still small 
compared to white dolls on the market. Most companies 
don't see it as economically viable to produce black dolls, 
she says.

"When you go shopping at the malls, you hardly see any 
black dolls," says Walker. "You may see one or two, but 
they are just replicas of a white person. They don't really 
have the features of a black person."

Britt, Walker, their mother, Roberta Thomas, and three 
sisters -- Jerrilyn Cannon, Chantell Albert, and Kareema 
Thomas -- first started displaying their collection, renting 
storefronts in their Dorchester neighborhood three years 
ago. This year is their first in public libraries, where 
demand for their exhibits is growing. Eleven 
Massachusetts libraries are on a waiting list.

Jessica Snow, children's librarian at the Codman Square 
Branch Library, says "Evolution" has drawn nearly twice 
as many people as usual to the library in the past month.

"The kids come in and see it during story time," she says. 
"Of course, all the girls are into it."

Standing beside "Evolution" recently, Britt slowly unrolled 
a pink piece of wrapping paper containing one of her 
prized possessions: a Frozen Charlotte -- a tiny black 
servant doll from the South, made in the 1860s.

Britt has been collecting such rarities since her late teens. 
She scouts flea markets, stores, doll conventions, malls, 
and eBay weekly to expand her collection. Although their 
collectibles could command high prices, neither Britt nor 
her sisters are willing to part with a single doll.

"I've given up meals," said Britt. "People have asked me: 
Don't you want to go to dinner? I tell them: No, I want 
that doll."

Each sister has her own preferences. Albert focuses 
mainly on wedding dolls and angels. Walker collects 
Native American dolls. Cannon likes large dolls. Britt said 
she collects a variety, but her recent focus has been on 
vintage dolls.

The family's doll exhibits are a "labor of love," said Britt, 
and they are looking for donations to keep the shows 
running. They hope to establish a permanent headquarters 
for their dolls someday.

And they want to use their doll hobby to raise money for 
charities, perhaps by auctioning the dolls they make in 
their spare time.

As for the exhibits, Britt said she was going to remove 
them at the end of the month, but has decided to leave 
them up indefinitely.

"Every time, I try to take them down, the librarians are 
like, 'No, please leave them up,' " she says.

© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.



March 07. 2008 2:52AM

Dolls represent positive images  Children’s channel for hope


WORCESTER— The woman with the long purple, red and blue 
dreadlocks interwoven throughout her own gray hair was the perfect guest 
for a program named Rainbow Child Development.

And her message to the children was just as bright when she visited the 
after-school program at Belmont Community School this week, thanks to 
a $1,400 Cultural Commission grant from the city.

“If you have worry, get rid of it, so that there is room only for everything 
you hope and dream for,” Debra Britt said.

That’s no small feat for the young children who come from some of the 
city’s bleakest social and economic conditions; they qualify for the low-
income child care center on Edward Street and its after-school programs 
at Belmont Community and City View schools.

But Mrs. Britt was a convincing storyteller as she blended lessons in self-
esteem, cultural diversity, the environment and black history. The tales 
took her from her own childhood as the only black girl in class and on the 
school bus in Dorchester to the jungles of Africa and a brave princess’s 
stand against slavery.

She told the children that slaves brought to America would hide messages 
inside their cloth dolls as a means to communicate to one another without 
being noticed by their owners. After the story, she provided supplies 
made out of recycled materials, including pebbles that served as worry 
stones and a means to release fears. Then she instructed the children on 
how to make their own dolls like the one featured in her story.

“You are going to make an important doll, because it’s your own doll,” 
Mrs. Britt said. “Your doll is going to tell you how happy you are. Your 
doll is going to tell you how sad you are.

“The most important thing is you can’t worry, because then your brain will 
be filled up with all kinds of fears,” she said.

“If we are worried, we can’t make a good doll.”

As the co-founder of Doll E. Daze, Mrs. Britt knows a thing or two about 
dolls: She has collected 5,000 of them, which she is planning on storing in 
a black doll museum she hopes to build in her hometown of Mansfield.

No two are alike in the all-black collection, which includes the African 
wrap dolls that her grandmother taught her how to make, as well as 
expensive collector’s items. There are Barbie dolls, celebrity dolls, eBay 
dolls and yard sale dolls.

And like her dolls, the children who attend Rainbow Child Development 
are unique.

“We teach the children that we are equal, but we are all different in one 
way or another,” said Martha Pardo-Testa. As development coordinator 
at Rainbow Child Development, Mrs. Pardo-Testa matches the needs of 
the children with projects and grant money.

“Any dollar you spend on children, especially socially, economically low 
children who don’t get these lessons sometimes at school or at home, is 
worthwhile,” Mrs. Pardo-Testa said. “One way or another, we have to 
make sure that these children get it.”


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