Meet Yelitsa Jean-Charles! The founder and creator of Healthy Roots. Natural Dolls for Natural Girls
Welcome to the fourth installment of “Awesome Black entrepreneurs you should know and support” series. As you know in the United States, the Black dollar circulates only once in the Black community; while in the Asian, White and Jewish American communities their dollar circulates 17-21 times. This series aims to end that disparity. We want you know about Black owned businesses and the inspiring people behind them.
We also know, Black businesses hire Black people and Black jobs create Black wealth. Today we are interviewing Yelitsa Jean-Charles of Healthy Roots. Healthy Roots is a natural hair doll company.
BBG: Tell us about yourself?
Yelitsa: My name is Yelitsa Jean-Charles and I am a Haitian American First generation art student at the Rhode Island School of Design. I’ve always been outspoken and really found my voice in college in addressing issues of gender, race and identity. When I’m not engaged in a debate about social issues, I enjoy working on my projects and listening to queen Bey.
BBG: Who or what inspires you and what’s your life purpose?
Yelitsa: As an artist, or as I like to say, Visual Activist, a lot of my inspiration comes from my personal experience and in response to social issues. I was driven to pursue art in high school after being challenged by classmates. He told me that I couldn’t change the world so I should just stop talking about the problems that exist. It’s hard for me to do that as a WOC (Woman of Color) who recognizes that people of marginalized groups are being put down and discriminated against just for being themselves.
As a young girl, I struggled with my identity and often found myself distancing myself from anything associated with blackness because of the way I saw other girls being stereotyped. I avoided the sun and straighten my hair religiously. Looking back now, I remember how horrible it was feeling like there was something wrong with me or that I was and still am, being judged by the color of my skin and texture of my hair.
I work now to ensure that no one else feels that way. My purpose now is to help other artists recognize the power they have as our societies content creators and encourage them to recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion. In turn will lead to more positive representation of children of color which we desperately need.
Yelitsa: In my sophomore year of college I went natural and it was eye-opening. I was also getting involved in activism and discussing issues of race and identity. Healthy Roots started as an art project in class. We were given the task of redesign a fairy tale character. I took this as an opportunity to address the negative stereotypes and portrayals of black women. I took Rapunzel, who is often portrayed as a White woman with long blonde hair, and turned her into a little brown girl with long natural kinky hair. I wanted to show that features Black women are so often taught to hate are actually very beautiful and deserve to be praised as well.
I saw this character as the perfect opportunity to further explore the deep-rooted issues of colorism and internalized racism that affects young girls of color, myself included. Toys are such a huge part of children’s development and dolls much more so. What does it say when a young girl doesn’t have a doll that looks like her? What does it say to that girl when they only people she sees being praised as beautiful and as the pinnacle of beauty don’t look like her? The doll test tells us everything we need to know about that.
And yes we do have brown dolls, but we have to do so much more than paint a doll brown. What connection does that child build with that doll and how? It’s more than skin deep.
BBG: First of all congrats on your Kickstarter! Why did you decide to go on KickStarter?
Yelitsa: We decided to launch our product on Kickstarter to prove that there is a demand for products like this and it isn’t a niche market. We also wanted to maintain control of the direction of the project. If other companies wanted to make brown dolls, they could’ve done that on their own years ago and still now.
BBG: TELL IT!! Tell us how Healthy Roots addresses the needs of Black children and adults too?
Yelitsa: Healthy Roots is a toy company that creates dolls and story books that teach natural hair care to young girls. Our ultimate goal is to combat internalized racism and colorism through education, diversity and positive representation. When designing the dolls, I thought about the girls that don’t see themselves represented in media. That’s why our dolls come in different skin tones, facial features and hair textures to accurately represent the diversity of the Diaspora.
We are doing more than painting a doll brown. We are building a relationship with the girls by teaching them culture, identity and self-love.
In our research, we found three major reasons why mothers and daughters were not natural.
- Mothers didn’t have the time to do their hair.
- They don’t know how to care for natural hair
- That’s just how their mother did it
We should not have to resort to using dangerous chemicals on our scalps. We shouldn’t be learning how to care for our hair when we are 21. We should feel beautiful in our naturals. It is the way our hair grows out of our heads after all; right?
We teach girls how to care for their hair using diverse characters in our “Big Book of Hair” and our dolls. Girls learn hair care step by step in our book and can practice the styles on the dolls and themselves. This is a great toy for parents children to play with together.
BBG: What are your goals for Healthy Roots?
Yelitsa: We aim to have a successful Kickstarter. As we continue to grow we want to expand our line to include girls of other cultures. We want to have a huge impact. We envision ourselves as the natural hair doll of American Girl. We will teach girls self-love with our dolls and story books while also teaching them culture. Each character will have a story where she will overcome her insecurity and explore their interests. These aren’t fashion dolls. These are bright ambitious characters with interests in biology, mathematics and coding.
BBG: Love, love, love it! What advice would you give other Black women entrepreneurs who want to start a business?
Yelitsa: I know that we all face obstacles be it personal or socio-economic. If you have obstacles in your way, you have to really want to reach your goal. You have to be passionate beyond being successful. You have to see how your work will affect others. Think about what you can do for the world and then don’t let anything hold you back.
My friend gave me some great advice when it comes to achieving goals: Figure out what you want to do, figure out how to do it. Do it.
There is always a way, it’s just about whether or not you find it and pursue. So don’t be afraid to send that email, resume, apply for that job or go talk to that person. Often times we hold ourselves back and I find myself doing it from time to time. I think too often of how people perceive me of if I say something, will I be the angry black girl or will they understand what I am talking about because it’s about identity.
As women, as people of color, we have to set aside that negativity and be awesome.
BBG: Where can we support your KickStarter and Healthy Roots?
Yelitsa: We have 7 days and $5,000. If you would like to see diversity in the toy aisle. This is your chance to make it happen. This is your chance to help representation happen and let people know that this is what we the people want. Pre order a doll or book on Kickstarter. Help us create these dolls for the girls that need them. Kickstarter is all or nothing so we can only do this if we reach our goal. Empower a girl in your life today and head to our Kickstarter: http://kck.st/1JtDlzn
BBG: Thank you!!!
We love this. It is important Black children see a positive reflection of themselves. Right now you can make that happen with your support. OK folks. Put your money where your mouth is and support the Healthy Roots Kickstarter today!