As most of the western world prepares to celebrate the holiday season, The Whispers of Womanism cites the star or angel at the top of the tree as a black woman. So rather than celebrate Christmas, we’re taking this time of year to celebrate black femininity. While black femininity certainly shines bright through conscious black women, in this quest for consciousness it is imperative that we as a community do not neglect our young girls. The Black Doll Affair, founded by Dana Hill epitomizes this initiative as an organization that solely focuses on cultivating the self-esteem of young black queens.
Dana Hill, otherwise known as Mama Doll established The Black Doll Affair after witnessing the heartbreaking results of the new “doll test” in 2007.* The new test, like its predecessor, revealed the detriment of cyclical disenfranchisement. Simply put, nearly all the tested black girls chose the white doll as more appealing and attractive to its dismal, black counterpart. In hopes of countering the distorted perception of blackness revealed in the doll test, The Black Doll Affair delivers black dolls to young girls every Christmas.
Tomorrow, The Black Doll Affair launches their annual doll distribution with honorary Ambassa”doll” ShalomIsrael. With her artistic spirit, beautiful brown skin and warm smile, ShalomIsrael emerges as a more than worthy leaders of an exceedingly noble cause. The Whispers of Womanism sat down with ShalomIsrael on the brink of her partnership with The Black Doll Affair. From celebrating black teachers to discussing the journey of self-esteem, our interview celebrates the intersectionality of blackness and womanhood, all the while emphasizing the significance of planting that seed of self-esteem in our young black girls.
WOW:For those who are unfamiliar with you, can you tell us a little about yourself?
SI: Sure! I am a professional dancer, teacher and artist living in NYC! I teach for the Alvin Ailey Arts in Education program and take classes through the Ailey Extension and School. I love performing and am fortunate to dance for 7 yrs with a Modern Haitian dance company called KaNu Dance Theater. I love singing and enjoy Latin Ballroom dance as well. I love creating art with words and have turned my love into a business with an online store front at http://www.wordartbyshalomisrael.com . My main goal is to improve and enjoy my life every day and to enhance the lives of those around me. By teaching dance, creating and sharing art and experiencing dance class with fellow dancers I am given the opportunity to reach my goal daily.
WOW: So, you’re the 2015 Leading Lady Honorary Ambasadoll for the Black Doll Affair! Congrats! How exactly did this opportunity come about?
SI: Thank you! I attended a book convention where my brother Taye and Shane Evans was performing a reading of his latest book, “Mixed Me.” Dana Hill introduced herself to me. After learning more about the Black Doll Affair, I was eager to assist in any area necessary. From there, the rest is history. 🙂
WOW:What inspired your involvement?
SI: For one, growing up as a deep chocolate brown girl, I encountered several occasions where I may have been slighted, ignored, or mistreated on account of my skin. Second, as a young girl I was very attracted to magazines like Teen and YM that had little to no images of black girls or women for me to relate to. Lastly, my sister and I often played with Barbie dolls that did not reflect our beauty. These three issues definitely contributed to my involvement with BDA. I want to assist their mission to change the experiences I had as a little girl, for young black girls growing up today.
WOW:Self-esteem is central to the Black Doll Affair. How do you define self-esteem?
SI: believe Self-Esteem is what we possess internally that allows us to accomplish ordinary and extraordinary goals in life! Although it begins with self, it so heavily relies on our external environments, the people that surround us, the messages that are communicated daily or the activities we participate in. Self-Esteem changes as we change and grow.
WOW: While this may be true for all women, black women in particular endure self-esteem as a journey. Can you provide a synopsis of your journey? Specifically, how did you arrive at the beautiful, artistic woman you are today?
SI: Opportunity! Opportunity! Opportunity! Ive never shied away from an opportunity and I think that has been integral in my artistic and personal growth. I’ve been incredibly blessed to be surrounded by the people I chose to be have in my life and the people I call family. Growing up I always sought out and befriended people I felt were smarter, stronger or more successful than I was. I felt they had skills I did not have or opportunities I was not given. I was determined to learn those skills and create those opportunities to optimize my chance for success. I’ve continued to do this throughout my life and it has always worked for me.
My love for dance has really shaped my love for self. It has been an integral part of building my self-esteem. I grew up a shy girl, comfortable standing behind my big brothers and sisters, quietly watching and listening to them. Through dancing I became aware of the power of movement and the ability to communicate using my body to tell a story. By the time I moved to NYC after college I was ready to welcome every opportunity that dance brought me. Dance has allowed me to find my voice in the classroom, using it to teach dance to high school students in Brooklyn. I’ve taught in many environments from private lessons to group classes, ballroom studios to gyms both young and old students. Dance has given me performance and collaboration opportunities in NYC, Haiti and Cuba. Every experience has added more wisdom, understanding and strength to my character.
I’ve also been so grateful for the opportunities to travel and my ability to take those opportunities to broaden my horizons. Through my travels to Europe, Argentina, Finland, Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, I’ve observed, studied, participated, enjoyed so many things that have helped to shape my tastes and views of the world, people and life. I’ve had conversations with people that are SO different from me, my background, my moral compass which has led me to deeper understanding, tolerance for others and a profound sense of being grateful for everything I have and all that I’ve experienced.
WOW: What are three ways you maintain confidence in personal and professional life?
SI: 1. I always tell myself there is someone in a position greater or lesser than myself. I can always do more, work harder and I also could always have achieved or have less.
2. I engage in an activity that I LOVE. For me, I find a way to dance. Be it in a class, on stage, while teaching, in rehearsal to dance = to build my confidence. Every Time I dance, it awakens a passion, youthfulness, drive and confidence in me like nothing else.
3. I celebrate every victory along the way no matter how small. When I celebrate a victory I am reminded of the mistakes I learned from in order to accomplish that victory. I am reminded of the patience it took to get there, I am reminded of those that aided me in that victory. It also reminds me to keep going so that my celebrations continue, grow and become more frequent! 🙂
WOW: What do you hope will come from your partnership with the Black Doll Affair?
SI: I hope to learn from and build a solid friendship with the wonderful black dolls I meet along the way. I hope to learn from the stories I hear from the young black girls I deliver dolls to. I hope to share stories through my Word Art, of my upbringing and personal success with as many young people as possible. I hope to assist in building confidence in young girls through my Word Art workshops where we create positive art motivated by their individual experiences and unique beauty. I hope to assist in spreading the Black Doll Affair message of sisterhood, generosity and all shades of black girls and women are beautiful and should be celebrated!
WOW: Lastly, if you had the opportunity to create 3 black dolls of any black female female figure-contemporary or historical who would you choose?
SI: 1. My mother. She is one black doll who has lived an extraordinary life and doesn’t even acknowledge it. Due to the lightness of her skin, her life was filled with most racial groups denying her due to not being “___________ enough.” Despite this struggle she really has accomplished an extraordinary list of achievements as an amazing black woman.
2. Although not specifically identified: a black teacher. Teachers are under appreciated and acknowledged on almost every level. As a black female teacher, I find that I am usually alone. Perhaps this is due to a number of variables unknown to me, but regardless I am a minority as a black female teacher in secondary education. Giving young girls in elementary to high school an example of a black woman they can relate to and share stories with, I believe can be pivotal in a young woman’s growth. Definitely a black female teacher!
3. Ok, can’t decide so it has to be a tie! Lol: Misty Copeland as an example of artistic success and Michelle Obama who for me, represents academic success. Both of these ladies deserve to be continually acknowledged for their grace, beauty, drive, determination, discipline and courage.
While The Black Doll Affair pushes an imperative initiative within the black community, it is only the beginning. Establishing a strong sense of self-worth is essential in combatting the cyclical disenfranchisement of systematic racism. So as we endure the daily plight for better jobs, appropriate compensation and diverse representation-we must note that an equitable experience for the African in America begins with a strong sense of self. Whether its creating art like ShalomIsrael , smiling a young black girl on the bus or complimenting her beauty, I invite you to personalize the issue of self- esteem and blackness and change not only a young black girl’s Christmas, but her life.
* As read on blackdollaffair.com
- All interviews conducted by The Whispers of Womanism reflect the desire and essentiality of showcasing black female excellence. We are not compensated for our interviews and do not aim to advertise for any person, product or event. We do however, aim to bring awareness to causes and organizations relevant to the black diaspora. While The Whispers of Womanism does not censor interviews, we do not necessarily align with the perspectives of those in which we interview. We ask that you embrace all posts with an open mind and trust that we operate with sole intention of fostering black community.