Journey to The Need for Representation

June 20, 2017 Flora Ekpe-Idang

As you may or may not know, it's been awhile since I've shared my last post regarding Corage Dolls. Much has been happening behind the scenes and it’s been one heck of a ride in the process. However, I want to take a step back and introduce you to the person behind the doll…me. My name is Flora Ekpe-Idang, Founder & CEO of Corage Dolls. Corage Dolls wasn’t something that just popped into my head one day, but instead, it’s been a part of me since high school. While sitting around in health class my teacher shared with us a short 7-minute documentary titled “A Girl Like Me”, which discussed the importance and need for greater representation of Black females in media and society at large.

 

I instantly became mesmerized on how the film highlighted that because black bodies didn’t conform to societal standards of beauty, the continual media judgment and detrimental lasting effects it had on African-Americans especially girls was of huge concern. The documentarian proceeded to discuss the doll experiment which was initially done in the 1940s by two African-American psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark as a way to study children’s self-perception related to their race and the negative effects of segregation. A group of black children were given a black doll as well as a white doll and asked various questions about its perceived attributes. The children overwhelmingly chose the white doll when deciding on which doll had the best attributes. Also in this documentary, the same test was conducted over 60 years later and garnered the same results. For me, this was frustrating and disheartening to see how children as young as 5 or 6 perceived their self-worth based on their skin color. I didn’t know at the time what I wanted to do with this anger, but I knew that I would always remember that moment.

I’m African-American, but my Grenadian and Nigerian lineage ties directly to my parents. Growing up, my household was filled both with beautiful African works of art and vibrant clothing, but also colorful and rhythmic timepieces and records of Calypso as well as delicious curry goat. I grew up embracing where I came from and how prideful I should be of that, but just like other children, I went through the questioning of my race and whether or not I was good enough to exist in spaces that weren’t my own. However, as I got older I came to embrace who I was and threw out the constant criticism of wanting to be accepted and ultimately acknowledged that I am the funny, quirky, flawed, spontaneous, sometimes gullible, karaoke jamming, diversity passionate Flora.

So, I took my idea of wanting to fix the toy aisle and see positive and greater representation of dolls of color and kept it in the back of my mind from that moment on in high school. I went on to attend Pepperdine University where I studied advertising and marketing. During that time, I was given the opportunity to intern at one of the largest toy companies Jakks Pacific in its electronic toy marketing division. As that journey gave me a glimpse into the numerous possibilities of how to build strong toy brands, I graduated college and went into advertising account management where I managed multi-million campaigns and multicultural driven accounts for a wide array of clients. Though I loved my time in the ad agency world, that moment of seeing the doll experiment would always come back to me and I knew that I wanted to go back to schoo.

So with that, I became an MBA student at the number one school for entrepreneurship, Babson College and it is there that Corage Dolls went from a moment in my head to a mission in my life. That mission became the drive to provide every girl with the courage to be unstoppable. That would be accomplished through authentic dolls of color with career-driven stories, kick-butt characters that defy the status quo, a community built around sistership, and children of color being able to see themselves and envision their future selves with such great pride. Toy shelves carry under 30% dolls of color and with the rapid growth of a minority-majority U.S., what are going to be those products that reflect these changing demographics?

Aaliyah, the 8-year-old spunky entrepreneur in the making is the first character and doll of the Corage Crew and I along with my team have been working strenuously with manufacturers and overall logistics and operations as we get ready to finally launch the Kickstarter campaign which is coming very soon. Aaliyah’s fun story which partially represents me and a close friend of mine is already in the works for book form and the next three Corage Crew characters which will reflect Bi-Racial, Afro-Latina, and African identities are beginning to be concocted as well. A lot is coming soon and Corage Dolls is ready to make an impact because representation matters.