Arkansas native on a mission to bring diversity to the toy industry

Brilliant Girl's Black Doll

Photo provided by: Shaneisha Dodson

By Pamela Acosta

Growing up in Lonoke, Arkansas, Shaneisha Dodson never had dolls that had her features or the color of her skin. Now, as an artist and animator, Dodson is on a mission to change that for her niece and other children of color. 

“Every child needs to see themselves represented,” says Dodson. “If we look at the world now, we just look at the world one way, looking at one race dominating everything. What kind of message does that leave our children? We need to be able to say, hey, you can become anything that you want to be, regardless of your environment, regardless of your skin color.”

Dodson’s vision for representation and empowerment led her to create Brilliant Girl, a company focused on creating dolls and toys that represent realistic little girls. The company’s first doll, SugarMama, was inspired by Dodson’s niece, who loves bedtime stories and goes by the nickname “SugarMama.” 

When Dodson wrote a story about SugarMama’s adventures, it became a hit with children who read it. So Dodson decided to bring SugarMama to life and create the first 18-inch Black superhero doll.

SugarMama is a Black superhero doll who loves to eat cookies and has magical hair that gives her strength to go out and save kids from monsters. SugarMama even has a Christmas story. What sets her apart is her realistic features. 

“We don’t all look exactly the same. So that’s why, every doll that I create and design will have different and unique features that represent realistic little girls,” says Dodson.

Brilliant Girl is also working on rolling out their second doll, Gigi, who will be an engineer focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Gigi will be able to build anything. In addition to the two dolls, Brilliant Girl plans to bring more representation for Black and Brown girls in the industry through animation and books featuring protagonists of color.

With her passion for representation and creativity, Dodson is using her platform to inspire and empower young girls to believe in themselves and their potential. 

“Every little girl and boy, when they walk in the store, needs to be able to see themselves represented, whether that’s seeing a lead protagonist in a book or a doll that they can take home,” says Dodson.