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They’ll be watching

Tomorrow night, my grandchildren will sit in front of their television and watch a brand new show called, “The Toy Box.”  It’s an hour-long show on ABC (8EST/7C) and features five toy inventors who are competing to have their product made by Mattel; and the winning toy gets on the shelves of ToysRUs.  Now that’s a sweet deal!

The sweetest deal for me, being one of the five inventors, is when my grandchildren discover that their “Mimi” is on television… prime time and in living color with the Niya doll (named after their Mom). They’ll be watching. I wonder what they will be thinking.  What I know for sure is that everything that I’ve been through on this journey of bringing the Niya doll collection to the market, the ups and downs, the twists and turns, the closed and open doors…it’s worth every sacrifice. They’ll be watching! I can only imagine what they will see. I hope they see my dream and know that their dream is possible.




Tune in April 7th to ABC, The Toy Box

Hi Folks I’m on a new show. I can’t tell you too much about it but what I can tell you is that it’s going to be fun. It’s called “The Toy Box” a mix between “Shark Tank” and the “American Inventor” shows except the judges are kids; and the winner gets a chance to have their toy manufactured by Mattel. That’s not all. The winning product will wind up on the store shelves of Toys R Us. It’s a toy maker’s dream.

Two times is a charm!

Little did I know that the opportunity would strike twice for me to showcase “The Niya doll” and all of her friends on ABC. For all of you who have asked me “when are you going to be on Shark Tank?” I don’t know. But this new inventor’s show comes really close. Tune in on April 7th at 8p.m. EST/7C to the premiere of “The Toy Box.” I’ll be there!



Darla Davenport-Powell, dollmaker ~ An Interview (Reprinted with permission from The Dreher Report)

Darla Davenport-Powell, Doll maker
In 1991, Darla Davenport-Powell created a doll and named her Niya in the full awareness of the influence that dolls have on African American children who play with them. Such is the toy’s significance that in the 1940s, African American sociologists Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark chose the doll when they conducted a test to determine the psychological effects of segregation on African American and white children.

Davenport-Powell joins a chorus of enterprising African American doll makers whose models of toy culture renew the spirit of childhood playtime and, more important, child advocacy. In this spirit, Davenport-Powell is a keeper of the doll making tradition as practiced by men and women throughout history: from the crude designs crafted by slave mothers to the papier-mâché dolls with the signature teardrop handmade by 19th century black doll maker Leo Moss.


When Davenport-Powell designed Niya, a dynamic multi-lingual doll, her creation made a place for her on the continuum of African American artistic expression. The doll maker connects with her contemporary African American doll makers, whose dolls nourish self-esteem, self-pride, and self-acceptance, including the cloth and vinyl creations by Patricia Green; the sophisticated designs of VonZetta Gant and Daisy Carr; the soft-sculptures of Patricia Coleman Cobb; the expressions of Mari Morris; and, the lush extravagant vision of Byron Lars. As are her current toy “siblings,” Niya is a doll that fosters diversity; her make and style attract collectors, parents, and children from across lines of race and ethnicity. As Niya says on her website, she “spreads the message of love and cultural awareness through music, songs and languages [and] is today’s multi-cultural voice celebrating the magic of children across the globe.”

… all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read, the toys they play with, and on they shows they watch.

The Niya doll generated a robust interest through mail order, specialty shops, and trade shows. This interest led her creator to seek wider distribution. As a result, ABC’s American Inventor chose Davenport-Powell as a contestant during its 2005-2006 season; she was one of the 12 finalists who received $50,000 to advance their product to the next level. Davenport-Powell, however, did not stop at imagining Niya, the doll; in addition, she has written two children’s books, Here Comes Niya! and her latest, entitled We Are Friends, Niya’s community of interracial playmates and produced its audiobook.

I interviewed Davenport-Powell, and spoke with her about the importance of producing African American artistic cultural artifacts that uplift our children during playtime. Of particular note, we talked about her desire to move into the genre of literature and the audiobook to spread Niya’s message of diversity.

Dr. Kenneth Clark

TDR: Why literature?
DDP: Early on I had books that opened up the world to me and allowed me to travel outside of the confines of (my hometown) Columbia, South Carolina. I would daydream about being in different places with different people in different time periods. Books allowed me to go beyond what society expected of a little black girl. I placed myself in the fiction that I read.

TDR: What was the one children’s book that really inspired you to dream and to move beyond communal boundaries?
DDR: The Little Engine That Could was my favorite. I identified with that “Little Engine” because there was something about the power of belief that resonated with me. I was encouraged early on by my parents and the people in my community to believe in myself and to be persistent in achieving my goals. I can remember repeating, “I think I can! I think I can! I think I can!” when facing many challenges.

TDR: We are familiar with the Dick and Jane books, a line of children’s literature used to teach children how to read from the 1930s through the 1970s. In the 1960s, Richard Wiley included the African American family in the series. How does We Are Friends follow in this tradition of teachable texts?
DDP: The very basic concept is about accepting one’s self (flaws and all) and celebrating the differences in others. We Are Friends teaches children and adults about the beauty of acceptance, diversity and inclusion. The book is dedicated to children who have been bullied, teased or called names. It’s like Dick and Jane in that the structure is short and simple.

Niya and her Friends model healthy self-acceptance and convey to the world the value of diversity–which is about embracing differences and similarities.


TDR: So in what ways does the We Are Friends picture book differ?
DDP: The Dick and Jane books that I read as a child did not have friends that looked like myself. I felt left out, and lost interest very quickly. The We Are Friends picture book features a rainbow of characters of different races, ethnicities, learning styles, cultures, gender and special needs. It’s a book where children can see the humanity in characters that don’t look, talk, act, learn or think as they do. It is a lesson for adults as well.

TDR: So some children’s literature you found lacking. Were there any images on television that did not fit the bill?
DDP: Yes, absolutely. I remember the excitement of waking up early Saturday morning to watch my favorite cartoons and kid shows—Captain Kangaroo, Kukla, Fran & Ollie, Mr. Rodgers, Shari Lewis & Lamb Chop, the Mickey Mouse Club, Romper Room and others. At the end of Romper Room, for instance, I became very sad. Miss Nancy would look through her magic mirror and never call my name. Each Saturday I would sit in front of the television hoping to hear my name. I felt invisible. That made an imprint on my life, and I vowed to change the game when I became an adult. That’s why on the last page of the We Are Friends book, Niya stretches out her hand with a mirror attended by the words “and the only friend missing is you!”

TDR: As a community, what exactly does Niya and her Friends convey to the listeners, readers, and children who play with the dolls?
DDP: Niya and her Friends model healthy self-acceptance and convey to the world the value of diversity—which is about embracing differences and similarities. The book, We Are Friends encourages children to learn, to grow, and to live together. It teaches them to accept their unique individuality and to be comfortable in the skin that they are in, flaws and all. It’s a challenge because we live in a society that generally does not tolerate those who do not fit its created “norm.” Niya and her friends are tools to help children to be proud of who they are and to understand, that which makes them different, makes them special.

we are friends
TDR: Can children do this by themselves?
DDP: No! Dr. Dorothy Law Nolte, says it best in her poem, “Children Learn What They Live”: If children live with hostility, they learn to fight / If children live with acceptance, they learn to love / If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves”. Adults are conduits for teaching children respect, love, acceptance and everything else they learn—positive and negative.

TDR: You dedicate We Are Friends to “every child who has been bullied, teased or called names” yet, there are no instances of bullying in the text. In what ways would Niya and her friends handle bullying?
DDP: Bullying is not present in the storyline because my main focus is on the positive interaction between children. I so believe in that. The book, the characters, the audiobook project present a world that showcases collaboration in the production of positive and joyful outcomes. It says to the child who bullies, “I don’t have to do that because just like my classmates, I have my differences too and I want people to accept me for who I am.” So there are visuals that this particular kid notices, and he or she can figure out that Niya and her friends are not threatened by each other. They communicate, play together, work together, and have fun. The story is well illustrated.

We Are Friends encourages children to … accept their unique individuality and to be comfortable in the skin that they are in, flaws and all.

TDR: Talk about the illustrator. Every child is drawn as happy and vibrant beings.
DDP: The illustrations were done by Dynamic Designworks, Inc., the same company that designed the Niya and Friend prototypes that were on the ABC American Inventor show. The team created the illustrations from the dolls. Niya and her friends are our children, literally. It was shared midway through the project that the artist who did a great deal of work on our special needs character ‘Jake’ infused her own experience into the illustration. Her son Jake has a disability and lives life in a wheelchair. These characters are real!

TDR: I noticed while reading the book that there are no Native American nor Jewish children in Niya’s community of friends—just Asian, Caucasian, Latino, and African.
DDP: Stay tuned! We Are Friends is the first offering in the series. New friends will be introduced in the books to come. Our Native American character, Alopay will move into the neighborhood along with others. As Niya travels, she will meet new pals all around the world and her family of friends will expand. This is just the beginning.

TDR: What are some of your final thoughts?
DDR: First of all, thank you for the opportunity to share my passion and life’s work with your audience. I wish to leave readers with my belief that all children deserve to see themselves in the books they read, the toys they play with, and on they shows they watch. I want children to know that they matter and have value, and that their power is in being an ‘original’ and not a ‘carbon copy’. I want children to become voracious readers and to dream beyond boundaries—knowing that the sky has no limit.

Darla Davenport-Powell is a native of Columbia, S.C. where she and her husband currently reside. She is the founder of the I AM ENUF Foundation, a non-profit mentoring organization that equips youth with leadership skills and tools that foster positive identity development. She is presently developing a Niya and Friends animated cartoon and will soon launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to manufacture the Niya dolls. For more information on the Niya project, visit or contact Darla Davenport-Powell at’Like’ Niya on or tweet us

For full article of Darla Davenport-Powell and American Inventor go to:
For more Information on The Clarks and their Dolls Test go to: Interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on November 4, 1985, for Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1954-1965). Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection. These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of Eyes on the Prize.

A hug to remember: 11-year-old Niya Powell meets Mandela

Niya with Nelson Mandela

I remember the day that we got the call from the White House. It was a call that was prompted by a letter that our 11-year-old daughter Niya had written to former President Bill Clinton. Niya was doing a report on South Africa and Nelson Mandela was soon to arrive in the United States after being elected President. What better way to capture the spirit of a country than to speak to its leader, I thought …so the suggestion was made and the invite was granted–some call it power of the pen, I call it favor!

The ceremony took place on the White House lawn. We were surrounded by dignitaries and world leaders from near and far. The media had followed us there to tell the story from an 11-year-old’s point of view. For me, Mandela’s presence spoke louder than his words. Who was this man who dared to love those who left him for dead; those who snuffed 27 years from his life with a wicked apartheid system that tried to bury him and his people? We witnessed history in the making at the inaugural ceremony and would become a part of it the next day.

Lunch with Nelson Mandela

The media reported that the little girl (Niya) didn’t get her chance to meet Mandela at the White House and was disappointed to say the least. On that same day we received another call…this time it was from the President of the National Press Club inviting Niya to a private luncheon with President Mandela; we would meet his daughter Zinzi, as well.

I can’t recall what was served for lunch but will never forget that moment when Niya gave the Honorable Nelson Mandela a “Niya” doll and a note that said: “To the children of South Africa, keep believing!”

He reached out with a hug and spoke to her like she was his granddaughter. That was 19 years ago. I asked Niya, who is now 30 years old,how did she feel then and how does she feel now having met Nelson Mandela? She said:

“I didn’t fully understand what was going on and didn’t know all of what he (Mandela) had done but I did feel the weight of how important his presence was at the White House…I am grateful that I had that moment to be able to hug a man who changed the world…incredible!”

What was on their minds? — Darla Davenport-Powell, Gamma Iota Chapter ’77

delta founders

I remember the day that my parents drove me to Hampton Institute, my new “home by the sea!” There was excitement in the air. Student leaders greeted us with open arms. Fraternity members assisted us with our luggage and heavy trunks. There was much to do before gathering at Ogden Hall for our orientation.

I was the first person in my family to attend college; a lot was riding on my success. Needless to say, I had a lot on my mind. Would I be as successful in college as I was in high school? Would I continue to hold fast to Christian principles with this new found freedom? Could I balance work study, extracurricular activities, and academics with my entrepreneurial endeavors? Moreover, what year would I pledge Delta?

Today, January 13, 2013 Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. turns 100 years old. As I think about what was on my mind as an undergrad with dreams, goals and drive; I can’t help but reflect on those 22 young women at Howard University who founded our esteemed sorority. What was on their minds?

Didn’t they know that society had low expectations for them to succeed let alone lead and achieve? Did they know that their collective vision would empower 200,000 women domestically and globally to take up the same banner of revolutionary leadership? What was on their minds when they decided to participate in the Women’s Suffrage March in Washington, D.C., when African-Americans were still viewed as 3/5ths of a person and white women didn’t take too kindly to them joining “their movement?”

If Winona Cargile Alexander, Madree Penn White, Wertie Blackwell Weaver, Vashti Turley Murphy, Ethel Cuff Black, Frederica Chase Dodd, Osceola Macarthy Adams, Pauline Oberdorfer Minor, Edna Brown Coleman, Edith Mott Young, Marguerite Young Alexander, Naomi Sewell Richardson, Eliza P. Shippen, Zephyr Chisom Carter, Myra Davis Hemmings, Mamie Reddy Rose, Bertha Pitts Campbell, Florence Letcher Toms, Olive Jones, Jessie McGuire Dent, Jimmie Bugg Middleton, and Ethel Carr Watson were here today, I would ask them what was on their minds?

I can imagine them saying: “You were on our minds—bold, brilliant, beautiful women of promise. We started this organization of service as a platform to build a better world and a brighter tomorrow. Keep on keeping on!”

Happy Centennial Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated!

Exciting News from Niya Kids!!!!!


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/Long Distance Grand Parenting

Where is the rule book on long distance grand parenting? My friends tell me that one of the joys of grand parenting is in spoiling your grandchildren and then sending them back home; but what if home is 2000 miles away? My daughter and her husband live in Texas, and we reside in California; quite a distance.

It has always been my desire to move back home near S.C. I can’t tell you the number of times that I thought about it and verbalized that wish to my husband. I grew up in a close knit family where my grandparents lived across the track; my aunts and uncles lived around the corner; and everyone else was a stone throw away. Family get-togethers were the order of the day. When my grandparents were alive, we would all come together under one roof to eat, laugh, listen to stories and learn lessons from their good-old days. I wanted the same for my children.

There is something about the “first” grandchild. They tell me the feeling is indescribable. Our daughter Niya spent summers with my parents and it was clear that all of our vacation time would be spent in S.C; the place where I was born. My husband’s parents died before he graduated from high school.

My daughter has countless stories about her Granddad and how he filled her pockets with coins and the fridge with hugs fruit drinks. She talks about the time he taught her how to boiled peanuts and make macaroni and cheese. She and her Grandmother lived at the ‘Family Dollar’ store. If they weren’t there, you could find them making their rounds at a nursing home. There is something about the “first” grandchild.

My one regret is that our boys didn’t have that same kind of one-on-one with my Dad and Mom that Niya received. My Dad was a man of few words but when he talked, he made a heap of sense. My sons have their favorite “Grandpa and Grandma” stories but I can only imagine how much more developed they would be if it were not for the long distance.

How does one resolve the issue of grand parenting from afar? For me, the answer is “Deep in the heart of Texas.”

Bus driver, move that bus!

INVENTING DARLA/I’m glad I didn’t listen!

• Sidney Poitier was told after his first audition that he should go out and find a job as a dishwasher because he’d never make it as an actor.
• Dr. Seuss received 27 rejection letters from publishers for his first book, “To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.”
• Beethoven’s music teachers told him he was “hopeless as a composer.”
• A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

I’m glad they didn’t listen.

I’m glad President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Cathy Hughes, Michael Jordan, Tyler Perry and Jennifer Hudson didn’t listen, as well.

Naysayers have their place.

I’ll never forget when I was told by my high school guidance counselor that I should take up a trade. She said my SAT scores revealed that I wasn’t college material. It didn’t matter to her that I was president of my senior class, a National Honor Society member, a lettered athlete, a member of the honors chorus and an all-around overachiever. There were many times I wanted to send her a ‘Thank you’ card. I thought about her after I had graduated magna cum laude from Hampton Institute and, again, this past December, when I completed my second masters at Drexel University with a 4.0.

Then there are those well-intentioned folks who don’t mean any harm when they say, “Baby, you’ve been working on that dream for almost 30 years; you should cut your losses and get a real job.”

Bless their hearts.

All while they are talking, I’m thinking of Madame C.J. Walker, the first known African-American woman to become a self-made millionaire. Her inventions revolutionized the hair care industry and sealed her place in history as a leading business pioneer. I know there were many who didn’t see her vision and wanted to keep this Southern woman in the cotton fields. I’m glad she didn’t listen.

I didn’t listen, either.

INVENTING DARLA/Life is not a fairy tale, Part II

I’m in good company.

After writing today’s blog, “Life is not a fairy tale,” I discovered that one of my favorite columnists, Rochelle Riley, had written an awesome article in yesterday’s Detroit Free Press entitled, “A different kind of royal wedding, but the enchantment is still there.”

They say great minds think alike. Rochelle is in a class of her own. Her pieces are profound. Check out Rochelle’s column at, and send a comment to her at

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