Dana Hill was out of a job, out of money, and running pretty low on hope when she turned on Oprah one afternoon and got the inspiration she needed to get back on her feet.
“I watched this doll test where Black children chose the Black doll as bad, ugly, and the one they didn’t want to play with,” Hill recalls. “I thought, ‘Really? In this day and age we’re having this issue?’”
That’s when the founder of the Black Doll Affair decided to change the way Black girls perceive themselves. Hill—or “Mama Doll,” as she’s now known—created what was supposed to be just a one-time Christmas party. Black women showed up as “Black dolls” and non-Black women came as their “porcelain pals.”
“They were there to be that white doll come to life and talk to a little girl,” Hill explains. “[Saying] how unique her hair is and her skin and nose, and how no one has these attributes but her—the black doll.”
Since that night in December 2007, the Black Doll Affair has become a movement recognized around the world for empowering Black girls and women. Now, on the first Saturday of each December, Black Doll Affair ambassadors (or “ambassadolls”) throw Christmas parties and doll donations for Black girls nationwide. The group has been an official partner of the Barbie brand for a decade.
“Their challenge every year is to get behind the self-esteem theme and act as teachers in a classroom, promoting this theme to empower these baby doll guests,” Hill explains. “Then once they’re fully empowered, they leave with a doll. That’s happened all over the country for 16 years, which is how we became the largest consumer group of Black Barbie.”
Hill’s Black Doll Affair also caught the attention of President Barack Obama, who recognized the group with the President’s Volunteer Service Award. In Georgia, the late Congressman and civil rights pioneer John Lewis championed legislation that proclaimed December 12 as Black Doll Affair Day statewide. Here in South Florida, the Black Doll Affair chapter stands as the second largest in the country. It also holds a special place in Hill’s heart; though she recently relocated out of state, Hill was a resident of Boca Raton for more than 20 years, starting her career locally after graduating from Lynn University.
Hill says that celebrating young Black women and encouraging them to pursue their goals in the very same community where she began chasing her own dreams brings it all full circle. “This just reminds me that the journey is alive,” she says. “It can be just as beautiful as you planned for it to be and even more beautiful in the unexpected.”