Just two years ago, Sheri Crawley decided to ask God what her purpose was, and where she should begin. After retiring from the corporate world, Crawley wanted to use her business knowledge for a purpose-driven venture. Soon, her questions would be answered with the Pretty Brown Girl Movement, an organization focused on the empowerment of little brown girls all over the world by reminding them they are beautiful, inside and out, through workshops and mentoring panels. Little did Crawley know, this idea that popped into her head during a conversation with her husband and daughter, would launch into a life changing movement for little brown girls in the world.
EBONY: Why did you choose to deem your organization the Pretty Brown Girl Movement?
Sheri Crowley: For some reason “brown” is an easier term for all of us to embrace because we are so many different shades. Kids understand “brown” because it’s a color. It’s a different feeling, and there’s so many of us of different ethnicities that fall under “brown.” We all have our individual things we’re going through relating to skin tone. But we haven’t had a platform specifically designated for the discussion as it relates to skin tone and self-esteem with little “brown” girls.
EBONY: I love that you say “brown” isn’t exclusive to Black women, because it isn’t. Women of all cultures really do battle with complexion issues. But I think that color complexion with Black women is more in the forefront.
SC: Yes, I mean it’s all of us [of ethnic decent]. An Indian young lady who was your age approached me, and she was making a documentary called Shadism. I was just floored by the fact that the Indian culture also has a color issue. From how to “pass,” to face creams, to the commercials they run on television. They battle this too. Here we might be the minority, but globally? Not at all.
EBONY: Can you tell our readers the journey that led you to the Pretty Brown Girl Movement?
SC: It’s an interesting story. Our initial goal was just to empower our own daughters, so we created Leila, our Pretty Brown Girl doll, named after one of our daughters. We saw our daughter going through situations at school in regard to her skin tone after we moved from Chicago to a suburb of Detroit, where the population is only 1% African-American. So she went from living in downtown, diverse Chicago and always having African-Americans in her class to being less connected to kids of color. I could see her self-esteem start to dwindle almost instantaneously.
I remember I was taking out a group of girls for one of my daughter’s birthday parties to American Girl Place, and they all had a chance to pick their dolls off the wall, and every single one of them picked a White doll.
EBONY: Do you think those little girls hadn’t been taught enough that they are beautiful?
SC: They learned about their history. They knew about Harriet Tubman, they knew Rosa Parks; they know their stories. We taught them their history, and we did everything as parents that we think we could do. But still, when asked to choose on their own, they all chose the White doll. I was standing there like, “What’s wrong with the pretty brown girl doll?”
That summer, Anderson Cooper was running the doll test documentary, showing the five part series of the test that was originally done in 1942. The test went something like this: “Which one is the ugly one?” “Black.” “Which one is the pretty one?” “White.” “Which one is the smart one?” “White.” “Which one is the dumb one?” “Black.” And then, “Which one looks like you?” And hesitantly having to go back to all those things you said about it. I was crying so hard.
At the same time in my life, I was praying for God to show me my purpose. I retired from corporate America when I was 27. I’ve been an entrepreneur for years and had my own businesses and I wanted to know how I could really use my gifts and talents and skills to really impact others.
EBONY: Where did you come up with the name Pretty Brown Girl?
SC: My husband always calls our daughters “pretty brown girls.” That’s just what he calls them, how he greets them. In one of our conversations, it just clicked. I was just like: Pretty Brown Girl! I ran to the computer and looked up the domain to see if it was available. I couldn’t believe it was. We were appalled that it wasn’t taken. My husband said I should buy it. For the first time, I listened to him and the next day, someone tried to buy it from me! So we formed an LLC and created the Pretty Brown Girl doll.
EBONY: It’s crazy how things can really happen when you truly believe in something bigger than yourself.
SC: Yes, it is. We’ve been from the Black Caucus to national conventions to the Alpha Kappa Alpha events to African-American festivals. The response has just been overwhelming. Last year was our first year of our "National Pretty Brown Girl Day," and so this February, we’re calling it "International Pretty Brown Girl Day." We’ve had so much support from other countries. We’re also launching our Pretty Brown Girl Club. We have a curriculum that we’ve developed. Our after-school program is starting up in January in a school in Boston. It’s amazing that in our community, there are only a few programs that are based for girls of color.
EBONY: When did you know that the Pretty Brown Girl Movement was having an impact?
SC: One day we were watching television and I asked my girls about their classmates. I remember Laila was trying to tell me about a girl in her class I couldn’t remember, and she finally responded with, “You know Mommy, the pretty brown girl!” Our movement is now impacting how she’s seeing and describing girls of color.
EBONY: How did the process impact your life?
SC: We went from living on Michigan Avenue to “Let’s sell off the cars, let’s get a two-bedroom apartment.” Our kids went from private to public school. We went through all of that. But we said we’re going do this. That’s how I knew it was from God, because none of it should have happened in the real world. First of all, we had no experience in any of this, and we had absolutely no finances to be able to get it done. But it didn’t matter because every piece of it came together through prayer, and people and opportunity that presented itself. That continued to tell us this was supposed to happen.
EBONY: What’s the biggest obstacle with being a new organization?
SC: We’re so grateful that in such a short period of time it has been able to reach as far as it has. And we’re just getting started. But I’m not able to sit and be still. I’m always running around like, “Okay, what are we going to do now?” But when I do sit and reflect, I am so grateful for being able to have.
EBONY: What’s the cutest thing a "pretty brown girl" has said to you and your husband about the dolls?
SC: Not too long ago, we had a little 11-year-old girl from Brooklyn leave us a voice message. This is what she said: “This is Aaliyah Alexander and I am calling in regards to the Pretty Brown Girl Club. I would like to know two things: number one, how much does it cost? And number two, how can this help me?” It was hilarious. I kept listening to it over and over again. It wasn’t even her mother calling; she got her 11-year-old self up and telephoned to say, “How are you helping me?”
EBONY: Where do you hope to see Pretty Brown Girl in the future?
SC: My vision for the next five to 10 years is that we will become an institution…I can also see an ongoing afterschool program created as well. The model that we have is very much keeping people with the clubs. A church can start a club. A mom can start a club. The club is a way for others to be able to kind of franchise out in their own community. I want it to be that any little girl can be a part of it, wherever she is. We just need to increase our awareness and let these girls bond with each other and celebrate their beautiful shades of brown skin.