"You Can Be Anything": Karyn Parsons Sends a Message with Sweet Blackberry

If you grew up in the ‘90s, you probably recognize actress and activist Karyn Parsons, who played Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

These days, Parsons is busy running Sweet Blackberry, a non-profit organization she founded in 2005 to bring stories of African-American achievement to children everywhere through beautifully animated films.

The project was inspired in part by Parsons' mom, a librarian in the Black Resource Center of a library in South Central Los Angeles, who often shared stories of African-American history at home. With creating Sweet Blackberry, “it was really just about getting [these] stories out to kids,” she says. 

After creating films about Garrett Morgan (inventor of the traffic signal) and Henry “Box” Brown (a man who escaped slavery by literally shipping himself to freedom), Parsons launched a Sweet Blackberry project on Kickstarter for a short film about Janet Collins, the first African-American prima ballerina to perform at the Metropolitan Opera. With the help of over 800 backers, she was able to create the film, which was narrated by Chris Rock and went on to win a Parents' Choice Award. “Next thing I knew, I was collaborating with incredibly creative and passionate people.”

Janet Collins, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Janet Collins, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

For Parsons, seeing the fruits of that collaboration — i.e., watching a project take shape — is where the fun lies: “Writing a story, seeing the art director envision scenes, the illustrator give visual character to the players, the animator put it all in motion, and then the talented narrator breathe in life... So thrilling.”

With her three previous films currently streaming on Netflix and easily accessible to teachers, students, and families at home, Parsons is launching a new Sweet Blackberry project as part of Kickstarter Gold. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, The Bessie Coleman Story will recount the life of the first African-American woman to become a pilot. “Her story shows children that despite what odds may be stacked against them, they can be anything,” Parsons says. “It is our duty at Sweet Blackberry to share her story with the world.”

Help Karyn and Sweet Blackberry share these important stories — support the project here.

Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female pilot.

Bessie Coleman, the first African-American female pilot.