Category Archives: INVENTING


A 20-year journey as the Niya Doll

By Niya A. Cotton 10/27/11

There is a saying that goes: “You only live once.” Well, in my case, I’ve lived twice.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve had two lives.  By day I went to school, dance classes, choir rehearsals  and acted in plays. By night, I shrunk several feet, spoke three languages and became a best friend  to thousands of young girls all across the world. I became…THE NIYA DOLL!

This 20 year journey of The Niya Doll project has had many ups and many downs.  It’s not easy walking a path that hasn’t been paved. It’s not easy getting people  to believe in your vision. It’s not easy to be a light in total darkness.  But has that stopped my mom, Darla Davenport-Powell, the creator of the Niya Doll?  NOT A CHANCE!  I have never seen someone so adamant and ferociously tenacious about something  that they believe in wholeheartedly. My mom created a doll that looked and sounded like me.  She couldn’t find any toys that represented our experience, so she did what she knew to do…  she created one!

At one point, I remember that there were hundreds of “me” in our basement!!!  My mom has driven this NIya Doll project to schools, churches, conferences, seminars, radio shows and even to the ABC hit television show, American Inventor.  She showed America how desperately  important it is for our children to be affirmed through products and images that look  like themselves. It’s my belief that everyone just wants to belong somewhere and if our children don’t get a positive push toward their purpose…they will take it upon themselves to find a place to belong. Some would think that after becoming a finalist on American Inventor, everything would fall into place.
Companies and manufacturers would call incessantly to be the first to catapult this dream to the next level.  Million of dollars would be offered because distributors would see how financially beneficial this idea  would become…NOPE! It’s not easy getting people to believe in your vision.  It’s not easy to be a light  in total darkness. This has been a slow and steady taxiing of yes’s and no’s but I believe with all my heart that lift off is up ahead!   The Niya project is just getting started! I have a dream that one day young school children will be able to join Niya’s paper doll collection (oh yes, there are paper dolls now) and create their own paper doll  that looks like them!

I have a dream that one day Niya and her amazing friends (oh yes, she has friends now)  will take their wonderful world of imagination to the small and eventually BIG screen! I have a dream  that the innocence of children all over the world will be restored and celebrated. And my last dream  is that all of my mom’s dreams will finally come true!  I’ve lived once, I’ve lived twice, but this third time…is the charm!

Happy Anniversary NIYA!

In celebration of Niya’s 20th anniversary, I am inviting you to blog about your experiences with the Niya Doll. Here’s one from Debbie Garrett, a doll collector, with her personal Niya story.


INVENTING DARLA/Rocco is here!

He is here. He is huge!!! Those words were music to our ears. After 22 hours of labor, and 2 hours of pushing, Roy Cotton III made his entrance into the world. Like my Dad and his great grandfather William Earl Davenport, who didn’t get a chance to see him, he took his time getting here. My daughter’s due date was July 31st, but I knew all along that Rocco would come in August. What I didn’t know was that my grandson would be born on the same day as my Dad’s home going celebration; one soldier left and another soldier entered. God’s timing is impeccable.

My six-week visit with my daughter and son-in-love was heaven on earth. I enjoyed every minute. I was there for the 3rd baby shower, Niya’s doctor/dental appointments, Sunday services at St. John (Grand Prairie and Southlake), Wal-Mart and Target visits, evening strolls, Cotton/Powell fellowship dinners, and much, much more. I was there…

 I was there for Niya’s 37th week pre-natal checkup when the nurse said, “This baby is already 7 pounds, 1 ounce and 19 inches long;” I was there when she lost her mucus plug, had a bloody show, took long walks in the Mall, insisted on acupressure as an alternative to what was presented. I was there when Niya had gone well past her due date and was faced with the dilemma of going in after 40 weeks to be medically induced.

That evening, she said something didn’t feel quite right. The family prayed, and with her husband’s full support, she decided to wait. Rocco was probably 8.5 pounds then and wondering, ‘How do I get out?’ On the other hand, I can imagine him saying “What’s the rush? I’m eating all of this good food at Genghis Grill, Pappadeaux Seafoord Kitchen, Furr’s Family Dining, Sweet Tomatoes Buffet, Bordeaux’s Cajun Restaurant and Nana “Ds” healthy cuisine. I may as well hang out here until they evict me.”

I was there when they evicted Rocco on August 11, 2011 at 12:06 a.m. His Mom pushed him out naturally, and he weighed in at 9 pounds and 11 ounces. One thing is for sure, they do it Big in Texas.

Another thing for sure, Texas has its fill with churches and restaurants; I had my fill with both. I applaud my daughter and her husband for their dutifulness. Is that a word? They did more with one working car than some folks do with a whole fleet. To see this pregnant child of mine  – get up early to take her husband to St. John in Grand Prairie, and then travel to St. John in Southlake where she ministers, go back to pick him up and sometimes sing for that service if it was in overtime, and then drive all the way back home on the other side of Texas – was remarkable. The experience was exhausting. I was so glad to be there when God blessed them with two new cars.

God is reigning down blessings in the Cotton household. First a new house, then two new cars and now a brand new baby. Look out world, Rocco is here!


I Need Your Vote!

It’s official! I am now a Jamba Juice Ambassador.  Here is what the letter said:

Dear Darla,

Congratulations! You’ve been selected as one of the 25 Local Ambassadors for Period 4 in our Ambassador of WOW Contest and you could become the next Jamba Juice National Ambassador of WOW.

Public voting for Period 4 runs from August 3, 2011 to August 16, 2011, so be sure to give yourself a vote and don’t forget to encourage your friends to vote for you as well by going to

What did I have to do to land this laudable position? I wrote the following:

I sincerely love Jamba Juice. I recommend different menu items to my friends and associates, without prompting. I am a dream machine with extra bananas connoisseur. I have called the Jamba headquarters numerous times to give kudos to the staff and manager of the Fairfield Jamba Juice store. The entire Jamba team at my neighborhood Jamba store knows me by name. I have a morning routine that involves an early Jamba stop to get my oatmeal with bananas, crumbled sugar and glazed pecans; plus my spice chai tea with soy. Then after my gym routine, I double back and get my orange dream machine with extra bananas smoothie. I’ve also tried the new pineapple coconut splash.

 As a local Ambassador, Jamba Juice is sending me a $100 gift card to jumpstart my day with what my mother used to give me each morning before I left for school—a big bowl of oatmeal, a glass of orange juice, and a banana.  Jamba

Juice gets my vote; I hope I get yours—Vote Darla D.


INVENTING DARLA/Songs to cheer you!

A good song can put a smile on your face and lift your spirit. Here are 10 of my favorite “happy place” songs:

  1. Smile (Kirk Franklin)
  2. I Gotta Feeling (The Black Eyed Peas)
  3. Don’t Worry, Be Happy (Bobby Mcferrin)
  4. Sailing (Christopher Cross)
  5. Celebrate (Good Times) (Kool and the Gang)
  6. We Are Family (Sister Sledge)
  7. Walking In Rhythm (The Blackbyrds)
  8. Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now (McFadden and Whitehead)
  9. Groovin (on a Sunday Afternoon) The Young Rascals
  10. Happy Feelings (Maze)

What are some of your favorite “happy” songs?


INVENTING DARLA/Warren Buffett, I’m on your trail!

I must admit. I am in way over my head.

What have I gotten myself into with this social media marketing animal? And, boy, I do mean animal.

For two weeks, I have been trying to wrap my brain around all of this new media technology. I said yes to blogging with a passion. I love extemporaneous writing. The major hurdle was sharing my inner most thoughts with the world—pretty much like handing the key over to anyone who wanted to read my diary.

Now I have a Twitter account and a new NiyaKids Facebook page. It’s kind of weird having followers and following people around on the internet. The goal is to get as many people of like interests to sign up as followers, which would make me a leader. I’m all for that. But the other way around feels somewhat odd. I know. In order to have a friend, you must first be a friend; and to be a good leader, one must be a good follower. I get it! The same principle applies to my new Facebook page The goal is for me to get 100,000 friends to LIKE the page to gain the interest of a manufacturer or licensor.  The more toy folks I like, the more folks may like my products. I’m still trying to figure out if my Twitter name is Niya@NiyaKids or @NiyaKids. I need all of my global diary readers to ‘tweet’ me – and we’ll see which one works.

My technology tutor said that the object of all of this is to connect all of the dots. It’s like the neck bone is connected to the shoulder bone concept. With a push of a key, my blog will go out to all of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers. The thought of it is a bit overwhelming.

I wonder what Warren Buffett thinks about all of this texting and tweeting?  I bet he doesn’t answer his own email. But he does have a Facebook page. In fact, Warren Buffett’s page has180, 797 LIKES.

Tweet this: Warren Buffett, I’m on your trail!

INVENTING DARLA/An invocation that continues the dream

SACRAMENTO, Calif. _ Drexel University held its inaugural commencement outside Philadelphia yesterday in a stellar ceremony that featured Darla Davenport Powell giving the commencement. We’d like to share her words!

My Mother’s favorite saying is: This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it; indeed, this is a great day. Psalm 118:24. Let us still ourselves in this moment… as we give thanks for this special occasion…a historic day in Sacramento…the first commencement of Drexel University outside of Philadelphia in the 120-year history of the University.

We have a lot to be thankful for…

Let us pray…

God we are grateful to be alive today…to witness, to participate and to celebrate our inaugural commencement. We are filled with appreciation for those who made this journey possible.

We give thanks to our grandparents, our parents, our spouses, our significant others, our children, family and friends who gave us the inspiration to “keep on keeping on” in spite of the challenges and in the midst of obstacles.

We give thanks for our late President Constantine Papadakis, ‘Taki’ for his vision, his wife Eliana, for her continued support of his vision and thanks to our administrators for carrying out that vision.

We are grateful for the Trustees, President John Fry and the alumni for their continued commitment and service to this outstanding University. We give thanks to our professors for their rich deposits, our guest lecturers and mentors; and the excellent staff that truly was the wind beneath our wings.

We are grateful for the soldiers who serve to protect our freedom and give thanks for their sacrifice.

Now God we ask your blessing on this ceremony, and on this graduating class. Guide us in our decisions and allow us to use what we’ve learned to make a difference in our communities, this nation and the world. Keeping in mind: “To whom much is given, much is required.”(Luke 12:48)…and in the words of Winston Churchill: We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”


Darla Davenport-Powell, M.A., MSHE

INVENTING DARLA/God has a funny way . . .

My daughter and I were talking this morning about God and his sense of humor. One thing is for sure:  He has been consistent.

I can imagine how Abraham felt when God told him to “get thee from your kindred and kind, and I’ll make thee a nation; and make thy name great.”


Did anyone bother to tell God that Abraham was old, and his wife Sarah’s eggs had long since dried up? They were probably hardboiled by the time Isaac was conceived. Nevertheless, Isaac was conceived and we know the rest of the story.

The same God took Paul, persecutor of the Christians, and turned his life right side up to be a premier apostle of the very same Christians he hated.


God has a sense of humor, and He is consistent.

We see it in the story of the Mary the Mother of Jesus (a virgin), Mary Magdalene (a former prostitute), Peter (a former thug) and throughout the Bible. Take Noah for example. Here it is: He hears from God to build an ark for years with no rain in sight. I can imagine people murmuring: “Look at that crazy Noah, building a boat, and it ain’t even raining.” The flood came and we know the rest of the story.

I can talk from my own experiences. He sets me up to get a second master’s degree with full tuition paid, without a book allowance. Unemployed, son in college, one in high school, bills up the ying yang and you want me to go back to school and earn a second degree with no books, Lord?

It gets better . . You are not only going to earn a third degree, you are going to graduate with a 4.0 cumulative GPA.

And one car, 17-thousand schedules ( everybody going in opposite directions) and an ailing Dad, who was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma plus a myriad of other demands, I graduated.

And we know the rest of the story.

It doesn’t make human sense . . .

I live in a house that our salary does not sustain. My children attend private schools, I’m sitting on top of a mega-million children’s entertainment business. I’m able to fly to Philly for my graduation. I get my hair done and eat on the regular. I enjoy full medical benefits through my husband’s teaching salary. I get stopped in public places by people from foreign places who ask me: “Aren’t you that doll lady I saw on “American Inventor?” Who knew I would win $50,000 as a finalist to take my product to the next level on a show with 14 million viewers, a product that now is licensed internationally to countries around the world?

God’s ways are not our ways.

I don’t have to imagine what went through Abraham’s mind when God promised to make him a nation with faulty equipment. I know how Noah felt when he was given the assignment of building a boat for an event that people didn’t believe was going to happen. I can identify with Peter, who was rough around the edges but willing to trust what he couldn’t see. For faith is the street where I live; not knowing how but knowing who; not knowing when but knowing that if God said it . . . we know the rest of the story.




I know you’re probably asking, where is Darla?

I spent the past week getting my ducks in a row for my graduation in Philly today. This was my first time stepping onto Drexel University’s main campus. The administration pulled out all the stops for our inaugural class from the Drexel West Coast campus.

The weekend will be filled with special events, receptions and tours. My son, Nigel, wants me to bring him back a Philly Cheese steak sandwich. Request denied. I want to be fully in the moment and not distracted by things I need to remember not to forget.

I’ve opted to stay on campus in a graduate dorm instead of one of the swanky hotels. With all the activities taking place on the main campus, I figure why waste money on a room that most likely will be used as a place to change clothes? Who has time to sleep when there is party over here and a party over there? It’s time to celebrate all of our wonderful accomplishments.

I packed my Mom and Dad’s picture neatly between my regalia, resumes and business casual outfits. They saw this day well before I finished my second thesis. As I marched across the stage to accept our degree, I held their picture in one hand and my diploma in the other and said: We Did It!

To God be the Glory for the things that He has done!

Darla Davenport-Powell

June 8, 2011

INVENTING DARLA / Debt, you got to go!

My mama used to tell me all of the time: Don’t bite off more than you can chew, live within your means and don’t forget to save for a rainy day.

I should have listened.

Debt is no joke. What I know for sure, Oprah, is that a hard head makes a soft back. My backside has turned into Jell-O.

Hey Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman! I need a financial intervention. Come live in my house for a week and help me get my freedom back. I want to save more than I spend. I want to live beneath my means. I want to build a legacy for my children’s children. I want to be a lender and not a borrower. I want to tithe some, save some, spend some and share some. I want to scream “I’m debt free!” at the end of this year.

Today, I will start again by putting change into my piggy bank. I’m going to dust the budget book off and list every outstanding bill neatly on the pages—starting from the least to the greatest amount owed. I will repent for not being a good steward over the money that I have been given and vow to replace old habits with new ones.

I’m serving notice:  Debt you got to go!

INVENTING DARLA/The Price of a Dream

Each morning I wake up thinking that this is going to be the day my dreams come true.

In my mind’s eye, I see children all over the world interacting with Niya and her global friends. Through child’s play, they will learn about different cultures, customs and languages — through music and song. All it takes is $365,000 to manufacture or a licensing deal.

I see children all over the world watching Niya and her global friends on television. Through interactive play, they will learn how to serve others, celebrate diversity and solve problems — through games and activities. All it takes is $250,000 to produce a TV pilot or a production deal.

I see children all over the world reading books and listening to CDs about the adventures of Niya and her global friends. Through imaginative play, they will travel to places beyond their wildest fantasies and be inspired to live their dreams — through stories and songs. All it takes is $200,000 to self-publish or produce books and CDs or to get a book and record deal. Let’s not forget the marketing, trade shows, PR, miscellaneous costs and legal fees that are not included if one takes the “independent” route.

Everything has a price. How much is your dream?

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