Your Story, Your Words

Student Venture: Healthy Roots Natural Hair Dolls

Prototype of the Healthy Roots doll.

Prototype of the Healthy Roots doll.

Being a first generation college student is a difficult task. With classwork, leadership roles and lectures, there is hardly anytime to socialize or rest, but that wasn’t enough for me. So I decided to add a start up [business] to my list.

In the fall of 2014, I was awarded the Brown University Social Innovation Fellowship for my venture, Healthy Roots. I developed Healthy Roots based on a class assignment asking us to redesign a classic character. My character? Rapunzel. My re-design? A beautiful African American doll with natural locks. I saw it as more than an art piece. I saw it as an opportunity to use art and design for social change. Thus, Healthy Roots was born.

My venture aims to combat colorism and internalized racism among young girls of color by empowering them. The doll serves as a tool to teach natural hair care, represent the features of Black girls and expose them to different cultures, activities and careers. We are developing four dolls with different skin tones and hair textures: African American, Haitian, Nigerian and Afro Brazilian/Pacific Islander. We wanted a variety of dolls to represent many members of the Diaspora.

Since being accepted to the fellowship, I have been immersed in the world of entrepreneurship and social innovation. As a first generation Haitian-American, I had never seen my self as the “business type”. My parents’ main aspiration for me was to get a college degree, not start a business. I still regularly get the “you should go into nursing phone call”, but I don’t think I’ll be picking that up any time soon.

I still have a lot to learn being new to the business world and all. What’s an elevator pitch? Do we have to practice in an elevator? Business models, financials, manufacturing, production and profit margins are now phrases that I am all too familiar with.

One thing this has forced me to do is to speak publicly. I have no problem talking about my work. I love the project and sharing it with others, but it is different when you feel the pressure of pitching. It’s not just about passion. You have to know what you are talking about and construct a story that is powerful and persuasive. You have to make them care about the venture. It’s also important to define who you are pitching to. Is it a customer, partner or possible investor? Don’t forget to determine what you are asking for. What is your call to action? Are you looking for support, sponsorship or funding. Tell them how they can help you.

My team and I just filmed our first pitch for the 2015 Black Enterprise Elevator Pitch competition. If selected we will pitch for 60 seconds and then 30 seconds for the audience and judges at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit. Wish us luck!




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Yelitsa Jean-Charles

Yelitsa Jean-Charles

Yelitsa Jean-Charles is a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), studying Illustration with a concentration in gender, race and sexuality. She identifies as a visual activist, using her art to prompt discussions about race and social awareness of systematic injustices. She uses her numerous leadership roles, including President of Black Artists and Designers, Vice President of RISD Feminists and member of the Providence chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), to organize community events prompting social responsibility amongst visual artists and the work they create. Her community contributions involve teaching at Providence CityArts, organizing Black Lives Matter protests and Ferguson teach-ins, in response to national movements. Her current artistic ventures include Strangefruit, illustrations depicting images of black women merged with nature, and Healthy Roots, a doll designed to educate and empower young Blacks and combat colorism and internalized racism.

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