Bellen Woodard may be young, but she’s already being praised as an inspiration across the world.
At just 9 years old, Bellen has made a name for herself by launching her “More than Peach” project, where she creates art kits that have packs of Crayola’s Multicultural crayons inside — emphasizing how the peach crayon is not the only “skin-color” crayon option, The Washington Post reported.
“I felt it should also be in other schools because everyone else should know that there is more than one skin color,” Bellen told the outlet of why she began her project.
Bellen’s inspiration for “More than Peach” stemmed from her own encounter with her third-grade classmates at a school in Loudoun County, Virginia, according to the Post.
“My friends were asking for the ‘skin-color’ crayon,” she recalled to the outlet, noting that she knew they meant the peach crayon — a color that did not reflect her own skin tone.
That day, Bellen came home to her mother Tosha Woodard and explained what had happened at school — and according to her mother, it wasn’t the first time that had occurred with her classmates.
“Bellen says that hearing peach referred to as the skin color always made her feel ‘weird,'” Woodard tells PEOPLE. “When I learned of it — when she came home after hearing it yet again in school that day — my immediate feeling was of the need to protect and empower my daughter.”
Woodard says she suggested that the next time it happened, Bellen hand over the brown crayon instead of the peach one. But the then-8-year-old, who is the only black girl in her grade, had other ideas.
“[She said,] ‘No, I’m going to ask them which color they want because it could be any number of beautiful colors,” Woodard recalls, adding that she was left speechless at her daughter’s reaction.
“It was Bellen’s response that very literally left me without words as chills washed over me,” the mother of five explains. “I knew in that moment that her response was exactly the way to approach her dilemma and simply said to her, ‘That’s perfect.'”
So Bellen went to school and followed through with her plan the next time her classmates asked for the “skin-color” crayon. Her response not only shifted her fellow students’ thinking. but also that of their third-grade teacher.
“What was most inspiring to her was seeing how her words led her teacher to begin using her same words in response to the ‘skin-color’ crayon request and before long, an entire class had abandoned the language,” Woodard explains to PEOPLE.
Realizing how much of an impact she had in her classroom, Bellen decided to spread her message by helping other students around the country through an art kit project.
“Bellen used Crayola’s Multicultural crayons in an earlier grade but didn’t think much of the lone box other than that they were just another box of crayons,” Woodard says. “But after feeling disincluded and seeing the change that her words had inspired in her own school, she wanted to share something that would both inspire creativity and celebrate individuality.”
The “More than Peach” project, as Bellen coined it, was a special art kit that included a sketchbook, a personalized postcard, a box of crayons or colored pencils and a box of Crayola’s Multicultural crayons or colored pencils.
In addition to the peach color, the multicultural box also includes apricot, burnt sienna, mahogany, sepia and tan-colored crayons.
To fund the project, Bellen used $200 she had saved from modeling children’s clothes for Target and also held a fundraising drive at her school, according to The Washington Post.
Her current goal is to send these $5 kits to every preschool and elementary school student in Loudoun County, as well as all the local middle school art classes, her website states.
Since last spring, Bellen’s project has taken off and turned into a movement, Woodard says.
Not only has she received donations from people around the world, Bellen has also been granted proclamations from the Leesburg mayor and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, received invitations to speak in front of her school board and to be honored by a state delegate on the House floor, and will soon have one of her kits added to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture, according to The Washington Post.
For Woodard, it’s not surprising that Bellen would be making such “remarkable” strides at a young age.
“Bellen, just as every other small child, recognized early on that her classmates were of a different shade and hair texture,” she says. “Though we had not discussed this project prior, as parents, we’ve discussed all along [with our kids] self-value and appreciating and celebrating the similarities and differences of those we encounter.”
“She just has such a remarkable way of expressing herself without reducing others and confronting marginalization,” Woodard continues. “Honestly, for me, it’s quite emotional seeing the magnitude of her impact and change unfolding right before my eyes.”
As Bellen gets older, she tells PEOPLE she wants to continue her project, but also pursue a career as an “actor, astronaut and scientist.”
Regardless of what she chooses to do, her mom has no doubts that she’ll leave her mark on the world.
“She seems ready — and surprisingly equipped — to move the change forward,” Woodard says. “Bellen somehow moves seamlessly ahead as if she knows it’s what she’s meant to do… she hopes that kids across the country can see through this movement how much they add — and can add — to their classrooms and the world.”