Black doll expo reflects culture, history of communities of color

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Two-year-old Aleyah Robinson walked out of the Northwest Community Activities Center with a smile Saturday, holding a doll she, and her great-grandmother picked out because the doll "looks like me," she said.

Aleyah was one of the hundreds of young girls who attended the Detroit Doll Show Saturday on Meyers Road. The event featured more than 30 vendors selling black dolls with various skin tones, hair types and cultural styles.

Sulrai Clark, left, and London Manica hold their favorite dolls at the 8th annual Detroit Doll Show at the Northwest Activity Center in Detroit on Saturday, November 9, 2019.

"It was a beautiful event, acquainted with our culture and that's important because it's hard to find," said Tracine Manning, Aleyah's great grandmother from Detroit. "She knew she was coming to get something today and is happy to have lots of options to choose from."

In its eighth year, the doll show themed "love the skin you're in" had more than 1,000 attendees by Saturday afternoon with arts and craft activities for young girls, head wrapping workshops, a spoken word performance, a mini playhouse and a doll look-alike contest.

Sandra Epps is an artist who started the event when she was diagnosed with Lupus. She said she was confined to a wheelchair while the disease attacked her kidneys and heart.

"I had horrible self-esteem. I'm a survivor now, but I wanted to do something to help other people like me to transform themselves," said Epps, who dressed as a princess with pink wings Saturday. "We still don't see dolls in our local stores and it's a problem because young girls should have good representations of themselves."

Lisiah Desley, left, poses inside a giant doll box as her mother Lea of Detroit prepares to take her photograph at the 8th annual Detroit Doll Show at the Northwest Activity Center in Detroit on Saturday, November 9, 2019.

In the first year of the doll show, Epps had attendees from Grand Rapids, Ohio and Chicago who immediately asked, "when's the next show?" she said. The show grew out of its space each year and she's already preparing for next year, she said.

Everything from paper dolls, Cabbage Patch-style, glass, and plush dolls showed an array of styles and affordable prices.

These custom dolls from Vanessa's Natural Hair Doll Creations at the 8th annual Detroit Doll Show at the Northwest Activity Center on Saturday, November 9, 2019.

Vendors like Kids Like Me took the opportunity to sell other things including books and puzzles, marketed to African American families. Their books including, "Skin Like Mine," "Hair Like Mine," and "Imagination Like Mine," sold for $10, while Barbie-like dolls sold for $25.

"This is our first year as vendors and it's been great," said Latashia Perry, founder of Kids Like Me, which started in 2015 in Flint. "The first thing everyone says when they see our stuff is 'I wish they had these when I was growing up.' We love seeing so many dolls and our five children would have loved this event."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_