‘Twas two days after Christmas when all through Elmont Road Park, families lined up in coats, hats and scarves hoping for their chance to get Black dolls from the Zeta Phi Beta and Elmont Strong’s stall.
It was the post-collegiate sorority’s inaugural Black and brown doll giveaway, organized by Xeny Odame, a member of both organizations, to provide local children of African descent with dolls that look like them for Kwanzaa.
As part of the week-long holiday celebrating African harvest festival traditions, she explained, it is customary to exchange handmade or African-inspired gifts, so the 100 dolls the organizations handed out on Dec. 27 came with handmade plaques saying, “I am brave/ I am strong/ I am smart/ I am beautiful.”
“I wanted to bring cheer to young girls of African descent,” after living through the pandemic, Odame said, which has affected communities of color at higher rates than white communities.
According to the American Psychological Association, one in 1,000 Black individuals in America has died from the coronavirus, and African Americans accounted for 52 percent of Covid-19 cases and 58 percent of deaths. The Centers for Disease Control attributes these high Covid rates to discrimination; lack of health care access; educational, income and wealth gaps; crowded living conditions; and the fact that people from minority-majority communities are disproportionately represented in essential work settings, such as heath care facilities, farms, factories, grocery stores and public transportation.
Providing Black children with Black dolls, however, improves their attitudes toward Black people, studies show, and boost their self-esteem.
“I think it’s important for all children to have diverse representation,” said Gretchen Rodney, president of the Rho Omega Zeta chapter of Zeta Phi Beta, adding that “fun and beauty come in all shades” and the sorority let anyone who showed up at the event get one of the 100 dolls, which represented the sorority’s 100th anniversary.
The event was originally going to be held in the spring, Odame said, but she had to adjust the program due to the pandemic, and she and members of the Elmont Strong community group postponed it to Kwanzaa, when they decorated their cars and handed out sweet treats to the families.
They ran out of the dolls pretty quickly, Rodney said, but are planning on handing out more next year.