With a long, ruffled skirt showcasing hues of turquoise, magenta and lime green, Zoe Terry sashayed out of a life-sized doll box. Her golden headpiece shimmered under the light. Her makeup was perfect.
"It does not matter how you look or the color of your skin because you are beautiful just because you are you," Zoe said after being ushered in by two young men, arm-in-arm.
Zoe, who is only 9, is the CEO of Zoe’s Dolls, a flagship program of the nonprofit What Next Global. Zoe’s Dolls strives to offer new dolls of color to young girls. Last month, Zoe, along with her friends and community members, dressed up as dolls as part of the “Living Doll Experience” at the Betty T. Ferguson Recreational Complex in Miami Gardens.
One “doll” was dressed as a cheerleader, another was a race-track star. There was even a ballerina. Zoe was dressed as a special edition princess doll.
Miami Gardens Vice Mayor Felicia Robinson was also out of her typical City Hall attire. She was dubbed the “Pretty in Pink Doll” representing breast cancer awareness.
This is the fourth year for the event. The goal is to gather as many dolls of color as possible and donate them. So far, Zoe’s Dolls has gathered more than 200. Her aim is to have 1,500 by Dec. 20. The company partners with schools, day care centers, and orphanages in Haiti and Zambia in Africa.
Over the years, she has collected about 1,000 dolls. Zoe’s Dolls recently started chapters in Texas, Mississippi and Atlanta.
“It’s hard to find dolls that look like us. There’s nothing wrong with seeing other images, but it’s so important to see your own,” said the young entrepreneur, who launched the company when she was 6 with her mom’s help.
Zoe’s mother taught her the spirit of giving by asking her to give away one of her toys at Christmas.
“This included my favorite, little stuffed bear,” Zoe said.
Right before she turned 6, Zoe told her mom that she didn't want to give a toy away at Christmas anymore.
“Zoe exclaimed that instead of giving a toy away at Christmas, she wanted to do something totally different,” said her mom, Nakia Bowling, 40. “Zoe said that for her birthday she wanted to give little brown dolls to little brown girls who did not have dolls to play with and that was all she wanted for her birthday. This was the start of Zoe's Dolls.”
Zoe said that when the girls get the dolls it “makes them feel special.”
“I can see it in their eyes. I think them getting the dolls lets them know they are beautiful. It takes time but it’s very fun in the process,” Zoe said. “My image is beautiful and I need those girls to know that theirs is, too.”
Zoe has lots of support. She has a 13-year-old inventory manager who packs all the boxes, a 9-year-old distribution manager who helps distribute the dolls, an 8-year-old “friend-ager” who sorts the dolls.
During this year’s event, Zoe also unveiled the Girlpreneur Program that will run as a pilot program for Zoe’s Dolls in January for 15 girls between ages 8 and 12. It will cater to girls who have an interest in owning their own business. The program will work with them for six months using a “kid-based business curriculum designed to give these girls the foundation to start their own business,” Bowling said.
Zoe’s godmother, LaTasha Bratton, 41, said she wasn’t surprised when Zoe wanted to start her own company.
“She has been surrounded by entrepreneurs her whole life,” Bratton said, who leads the nonprofit that houses Zoe’s Dolls. “This is nothing new to her. It was just natural that this came out of her. I am so proud that other little brown girls can see that they are empowered as a girl, as a woman, as a girl of power. As females we are one.”
When Zoe was 2, doctors told her parents that she had suffered a stroke, which affected Zoe physically and left her having difficulties with her fine and gross motor skills.
After intense therapy, Zoe excelled in the classroom and launched what she calls her “dream job.”
“I’m unstoppable,” she said.
Said her mom: “She does not give up. She keeps going when she's afraid. It’s who she is. Before, she couldn’t even do a jumping jack.”
Zoe got up from her chair and did 10 jumping jacks.
“You see! I can do anything.”
Essence Johnson, 9, says she really believes in Zoe’s mission.
“It’s inspiring because kids are doing it,” she said. “It’s so much more exciting. Grown-ups look up to us. Grown-ups have everything, they plan everything. Kids don’t do that. We took it from the bottom and kept growing and now look at us. It feels great to remind them they are pretty by giving them colored dolls who are just like them.”