When Chauncia Boyd Rogers realized her 5-year-old daughter Ava was not learning about Black History Month in her prekindergarten class, she took action.
It was February 2015, and “I looked at the calendar and saw they didn’t have anything planned,” she said, adding that the school in Orlando, Fla., typically acknowledged other cultural celebrations and holidays. “I didn’t want her to miss out. I wanted her to know that the month of February is dedicated to celebrating Black lives.”
“So I decided to teach her myself,” said Boyd Rogers, 37.
She wanted to teach her daughter about the many Black women who blazed the trail before her. Boyd Rogers was determined to find a concept that would resonate with a 5-year-old — which, she admitted, was not an easy task.
“Ava has a crazy imagination, and at the time, she loved to play dress up. So I decided I would dress her up as different people each day and teach her about what the person has done and why they’re relevant to her history,” said Boyd Rogers, who now lives outside Dallas.
The elaborate mother-daughter project became an annual tradition, and now, at age 11, Ava is dressing up as a different Black trailblazer every day this month.
Ava has portrayed Phillis Wheatley, Michelle Obama, Ella Fitzgerald, Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice, Harriet Tubman, Robin Roberts, Serena Williams, Amanda Gorman and countless other figures, as well as some lesser-known, though still inspiring, Black women.
“The portrayals are often based on her current interests,” said Boyd Rogers, who is a freelance editor. For instance, “Ava says she wants to be a journalist and follow my path,” so journalist and activist Ida B. Wells was a natural choice.
“She really does see herself in them,” said Boyd Rogers, who shares side-by-side photos on social media of her daughter mirroring the women. “It makes her feel proud and like she can really do anything.”
They select one photo of an icon to emulate, then they organize wardrobe, hair and makeup accordingly. Ava and her mother create custom costumes using items they already own, including a variety of wigs gifted to them from Ava’s godmother.
“For clothing, we use things we have in the house — my husband’s clothes, sheets and blankets, any materials that look like the pattern and fabric,” Boyd Rogers said. “We make it work with what we have.”
Once the costume is complete, a photo shoot takes place, and given her now-extensive experience, Ava has mastered the ability to pose with precision. Boyd Rogers edits the images, putting Ava against backdrops similar to those in the original photos.
The primary purpose of the dress-up endeavor, beyond getting dolled up and having fun with the photos, is to teach Ava about who these people were and are — and why their stories collectively paved a path for her.
That is why the mother-daughter duo spend the year preparing for the project, gradually compiling a list of women Ava would like to portray and thoroughly researching each one. When Boyd Rogers shares the side-by-side finished photo, it’s accompanied by an in-depth caption chronicling the woman’s life and her accomplishments, in an effort to educate others. The end result is a photo essay.
Boyd Rogers said the project is “more relevant than ever.”
“Our intention is to reach and teach,” she continued, adding that she also plans to do the project with her two younger daughters, who are 4 and 1. “We want people to know that Black history is American history; it’s world history. The accomplishments of Black women make a difference in all of our lives.”
“I hope to continue doing the project, and I hope to pass it down and do it with my child when I’m older,” Ava added.
The initiative has touched many people, a number of whom have emulated it in their families.
“We love the fact that so many people do it, because it makes the knowledge more widespread and it allows for so many others to learn,” Boyd Rogers said.
Jalen and Keyonna Seawright have spent February dressing up their two daughters, Karington and Kaidence — ages 3 and 2, respectively — as Black trailblazers and taking them on historical field trips.
To mark Rosa Parks’s birthday on Feb. 4, Jalen Seawright, 28, brought his daughters to the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan, where they live, to see the public bus on which Parks was arrested in 1955 after she refused to give up her seat to a White man.
Seawright and his wife dressed up their daughters to resemble the civil rights activist — complete with oval glasses, camel-colored pea coats and black fascinators — and before the museum visit, they did an arts-and-crafts exercise to learn about the story.
“The world is going to be theirs to take on,” Seawright said. “I want them to realize that it hasn’t always been that way and they should be both grateful and dedicated to pursuing their dreams.”
He tells his daughters: “The only reason why you can is because they did.”
Similar to Boyd Rogers’s approach of portraying women of the past and present, “we try to do trailblazing Black women of then and now,” Seawright said.
The girls dress up twice a week in February. They have done Parks, Gorman, Mae C. Jemison and Claressa Shields.
“I encourage any parent — no matter what color, race or culture you’re from — to engage in stories that are different from your own. I think that’s what this month is all about,” he said.
Taylor Trotter, whose 5-year-old daughter is biracial, agreed. As a White woman and single mother, “I want to make a conscious effort to teach Paisley about the Black side of her. I want her to love all of who she is.”
For three years, Trotter, 25, has marked Black History Month by sharing a photo of Paisley portraying an inspirational Black person — men and women — every day in February. She, too, writes lengthy captions about the individual’s life and accomplishments.
“The caption is equally as important as the picture,” said Trotter, who lives in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Paisley has dressed up as Kamala Harris, Sojourner Truth, George Floyd and Eugene Goodman, the Black officer who diverted a mob of rioters during the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.
On the 28th day of every February, Paisley always poses as herself, because “she is living Black history,” Trotter said.
At the end of the month, Trotter compiles the side-by-side photos and captions into a book for her daughter to read and learn from throughout the year.
While many parents have opted to do side-by-side photos, Kenya White and her 5-year-old daughter, who live in Detroit, take videos.
“Rosie absolutely loves doing it,” White, 43, said of her daughter. They kicked off the month by portraying Stacey Abrams and Tina Turner, who gave Rosie a special shout-out on social media.
“It’s a thrill for us. We are enjoying the happiness that we’re making for other people,” White said.
Above all, though, “everything I’m teaching Rosie is sponged inside of her. She’ll always remember who these people are and how they shaped her history,” she said.