In 2020, Brooke Hart Jones embarked on a mission to find dolls representing Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) for a friend's birthday gift. She discovered a void in the market and decided to take matters into her own hands by creating HBCyoU Dolls — the first and only HBCU doll line available in major retail stores globally.
"We're very proud of that,” Jones told USA TODAY. “We want to use it as an opportunity to plant the seed of higher learning, and as a tool to teach history...spread our legacy and champion and highlight and preserve the legacy of historically black colleges and universities."
As a proud HBCU alum and former toy buyer, Jones utilized her background in merchandising and her passion for dolls to fill this gap. She seized the opportunity to bring her vision to life while furloughed during the pandemic, establishing a website and social media presence before selling her dolls online.
The turning point came when Purpose Toys, a company supporting black-owned toy businesses, approached Jones for collaboration. The company’s support enabled her to scale her business, offer dolls at more affordable prices and reach a broader audience. Today, HBCyoU Dolls are sold in major retailers such as Target, Walmart, Sam's Club and Amazon.
The dolls are more than toys; they represent major themes associated with HBCUs, aiming to expose more people to the rich culture of these institutions. What sets HBCyoU Dolls apart is their commitment to diversity: Beyond skin tones and hair textures, the dolls possess unique backgrounds, majors, interests and leadership roles.
“At historically black colleges and universities, homecoming is like no other,” Jones explained. “There's like a full-on royal court and pageantry that could rival the British monarchy. That's just a subculture that mainstream media probably isn't aware of, but in the African American community being a homecoming queen at an HBCU is everything."
Each HBCyoU doll tells a story. Among Jones' personal favorites is "Nicole" – a homecoming queen doll launched in 2022 – and "Autumn," a majorette introduced this year. Named after significant women in Jones' life, these dolls embody the essence of HBCU culture, with education, diversity and inspiration being the focal aspects of the HBCyoU Dolls legacy.
Jones emphasized the dolls' role in highlighting the spirit of social activism deeply ingrained in HBCU culture. These institutions have historically been at the forefront of social change, advocating not only for African Americans but also for women's rights and civil rights as a whole.
“We've made a lot of strides with diverse skin color in the toy space,” Jones told USA TODAY. “There's been a lot of improvement but now we want to go deeper than just our beautiful hair and beautiful skin tone. We want to have more depth.”
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