More than 2,000 dolls will fill two levels at the Charleston Maritime Center for a four-day expo organized by the nonprofit B.R.I.G.H.T. Historical Organization. The expo, called “Black Footprints: Blacks Past and Present,” is meant to provide positive role models and build self-esteem among visitors young and old.
The collection of dolls will be arranged in ways that mimic human experiences. Collector Mattie P. Sanders, a 74-year-old West Ashley resident, is the force behind the event. Her colleague, Dorothy Jenkins, president of B.R.I.G.H.T. and member of Emanuel AME Church, arranged for the church to provide funding. The project fits well with Mother Emanuel’s youth outreach efforts, Jenkins said.
She hopes the exhibit will draw parents and children and spark conversations about race, family, character and more.
“We want to promote positive values, character-building activities, so that parents will have that opportunity to have that discussion,” Jenkins said.
Sanders retired as a guidance director at Berkeley Middle School in Moncks Corner in 2007. She always has been a visual person interested in affirming the black experience, she said. About 35 years ago she started collecting African-American dolls.
Once she achieved a critical mass, she organized them according to themes: sports, family, holidays, life roles, emotions, etc. And in 1997 she started her nonprofit, B.R.I.G.H.T. Historical Organization. The acronym stands for “Blacks Righting Injustices and Gaining High Triumphs.”
Eventually, she expanded her collection to include dolls from all over the world. Often, she found one in disrepair and went to work fixing it. Dolls she couldn’t fix (because a part was broken or missing), she assigned to the “health section” of her collection.
“I don’t throw away any dolls,” Sanders said. “I am going to do something with them.”
Only once before, at Berkeley Middle School, has she exhibited her entire collection, but she will take small portions of it to schools, community groups and churches to help illustrate a certain theme, she said.
Building the collection has been a labor of love, though Sanders has encountered bumps in the road.
It has been a challenge finding black dolls, she said. “They are not easily visible, you have to look in the back.”
At the Maritime Center, 10 Wharfside St., near the South Carolina Aquarium, the black dolls mostly will be located on the lower level, organized according to theme. Upstairs, patrons will find “The Great Big Melting Pot,” an international mix of dolls from Sanders’ collection.
The show will be open to the public 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 23, through Saturday, May 26. Admission is $5 for those 11 and up; $1 for children 10 and under.
For more information, go to http://bright-us.org/.