Mom had the idea to dress daughter up as notable black women to teach her about history and civil rights.
When Lola Jones, 5, came home from her Kent elementary school in January with questions about Martin Luther King Jr., her parents decided it was time to have a talk about slavery and civil rights.
“Deep and heavy” topics that could be hard for a little girl to understand, according to her mother, Cristi Jones.
But Jones had an idea. Her daughter loved to dress up, and Black History Month was just around the corner.
What if Lola learned about the contributions of notable black women while dressing up as them and re-creating their most iconic looks?
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“I started thinking that this would be a fun way for her to learn about the strong women who paved the way for the youth of today,” Jones said.
So Lola’s mom hit the thrift stores and the internet, spending less than $40 on a few props — an aviator hat, a bonnet, two wigs and a little boy’s jacket — and repurposed items from the house and began their pictorial project.
Starting on Jan. 31, Jones helped her daughter transform into some of America’s most accomplished and admired black women, from Rosa Parks and Shirley Chisholm to Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and Misty Copeland.
Jones, 29, then posted pictures on her Facebook and Twitter accounts of the women alongside photos of her daughter channeling them in their most well-known poses.
“Doing a Black History Month photo project w/ my 5 y.o. One photo recreated of one incredible black woman every day in Feb. This was Day 1,” wrote Jones alongside pictures of Nina Simone and Lola with her hair in a white wrap and her gaze down.
The hardest part, said Jones, an artist, baker and stay-at-home mom to Lola and 19-month-old Eden, was figuring out which women to feature.
”I’ve always had a love of black history,” Jones said. “I wrote about Zora Neale Hurston in elementary school and did a high-school paper on Josephine Baker. There are so many women I have deep respect for, it was hard to choose.”
Jones said that learning about the women featured in their pictorial project has already had an impact on Lola.
“Lola has always been so quiet and shy and still is, but she has come out of her shell somewhat,” said her teacher Teresa Sawyer. “She will tell us about the picture or answer her peers questions about the pictures without hesitation now. I can tell that she is really proud of the project, as she should be.”
Sawyer said she decided to share the photographs and stories of the women behind them with her Scenic Hills Elementary school class after she got “chills” from seeing the first in the series.
“The students in my class get excited when I tell them there is a new picture for the day. They sit so quietly as I am reading it to them. They love seeing Lola dressed up as all the different women and tell her how good her pictures are and ask her how she looks so much like the picture,” said Sawyer during a Facebook conversation.
Their favorites, so far, have been Rosa Parks, Misty Copeland and Ruby Bridges, Sawyer said.
Jones and her husband, an electrician, have had to deal with a few somber moments and heartbreaking questions during the project.
“Lola is kind of an old soul, and she absorbs things and thinks about them,” Jones said.
One day, the family was talking about someone “who had been killed basically for being black when Lola said, ‘This isn’t going to happen to us, is it?’ ”
“There is a little fear in learning people were hated for the color of their skin,” Jones said, “but we stressed that while we still have farther to go, we have come a very long way and that’s why she can go to school with all of her friends who are different colors and religions.”
When asked what she learned during the undertaking, Lola said in a soft voice, “that white people and black people couldn’t go to the same school … and black people and white people couldn’t drink from the same water fountain.”
But the science-loving girl also learned, from women like Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space, that she can truly “be anything.”
Jones said the response to their pictorial project has been astonishing. Since it was featured on local TV, she’s gotten requests from teachers wanting to use the project as a teaching aid and notes of encouragement from people around the world.
“The response has been incredible,” Jones said. “We heard nothing but wonderful messages.”