Zoe Terry suffered a stroke at age 2. And as a child, she was bullied for having kinkier hair and darker skin than other girls.
But on her sixth birthday, Zoe decided to turn those negatives into positives and, with the help of her mother, jump-started her own business.
“Every Christmas, my mom made me donate a toy,” Zoe said. “When I turned 5, I told my mom I didn’t want to do that anymore, I wanted to create a business called Zoe’s Dolls.”
“Because every little girl deserves a doll,” according to Zoe’s Dolls website.
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On Oct. 19, 2012, Zoe asked friends and family to buy her new brown dolls as birthday gifts. She collected these dolls with her friends and donated them to girls of African, Hispanic, Caribbean and African-American descent.
Now, Zoe collects dolls yearly beginning on her birthday, Oct. 19, through Dec. 31. She donates them to girls in the United States, Haiti, Lusaka and Zambia for Christmas.
“Since we started the business, people of different cultures have been more than willing to help,” said Nakia Bowling, Zoe’s mom. “We work year-round to empower brown girls.”
In addition to donations, Zoe’s Dolls promotes entrepreneurship in young girls through the Girlpreneur Program.
Zoe, who completed her first TED Talk this year, started Girlpreneur to help 15 girls, ages 8 to 12, learn how to create a business plan, incorporate their ideas, and design their own marketing plans.
Each girl is mentored by a business owner and receives $500 toward their venture.
The program debuted in January.
“I wanted to do this to show other little girls that they can do it, too,” Zoe said. “You don’t have to work for somebody; you can build your own.”
The organization also hosts several additional programs, including the Living Doll Experience, Love Letters to Black Girls, and a contest called Loving the Skin I’m In.
The contest allows each girl, 6 to 18, to submit a short essay or film that explains why being a brown girl is important to her.
“This program hits home for me because sometimes people don’t make you feel good about yourself,” said Miami Gardens Vice Mayor Felicia Robinson. “This contest teaches that you have to feel good about yourself no matter what’s going on.”
Winners receive cash prizes: $125 for first place, $75 for second and $50 for third.
Zoe’s Dolls also promotes a healthy lifestyle through its newest program, Girl Fit, which took place Saturday at Rolling Oaks Park in Miami Gardens.
Girl Fit featured a host of free activities for girls to participate in, including a human hamster ball obstacle course, yoga for kids, a hula-hoop and jump-rope station, rock climbing, line dancing, and free healthy snacks.
The next Girl Fit will be in September in North Miami.
“This program is important because so many girls don’t work out,” said 9-year-old Eryn Mayo, Zoe’s manager and best friend. “They just sit on the couch all day — watching TV and eating Fritos.”
Eryn suggested trading the chips for fruits and vegetables, such as bananas, apples, and steamed Brussels sprouts with soy sauce for added flavor.
Although Zoe and her mother have covered many issues through Zoe’s Dolls, there’s still one big problem the duo would like to focus on.
“Everything that’s going on with people of color like us being dehumanized, little girls being subjected to sex trafficking, bullying, and being told everyday by mass media that their image is not beautiful,” said Bowling. “This program is important because it tells them that their image is beautiful.”
In the meantime, Zoe continues to turn negatives into positives. After her stroke, doctors said she wouldn’t be able to ride a bike or be active. Today, Zoe dances tap, jazz and hip hop; and she plays tennis six hours daily.
She also rides bike.
“I’m so moved by her,” her mom said. “She has overcome so much, and she just keeps going.”
To learn more about Zoe’s Dolls or to donate, visit www.zoesdolls.com.