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In honor of Black History Month, poet, activists and best-selling author Cleo Wade partnered with Barbie on a collection of dolls that celebrates "the power, brilliance, and determination of Black women" throughout history.
Wade — hailed as "The Millennial Oprah" — collaborated with the Barbie team on the theme and styling of an editorial campaign that features one-of-a-kind dolls (not for sale) from past, present and future generations.
One groups of dolls, adorned with quintessential 1960s accessories like a pillbox hat and cat eye sunglasses, hold a sign that reads, "We fight with love. We win with love." Dolls representing the present time period sport jeans, face masks and traditional protective hairstyles. They appear to be protesting racial injustice with signs that tout powerful messages like, "We cannot overcome what we ignore" and "Enough is enough."
The third and final image from the Cleo Wade x Barbie collaboration paints a hopeful picture of the future, featuring two young women smiling and holding signs with empowering messages. One reads, "We are the builders who are…" in colorful letters, while the other says, "Building a [world] that has never been built before."
Speaking exclusively with PEOPLE, the poet says she she "really wanted to center the power and brilliance of Black Women and the significant role Black Women have played and continue to play in the progress of America's social movements" for Black History Month.
She continued: "Doing this project with Barbie is my ultimate dream, not just because she is a cultural icon and a leading force when it comes to diversity and inclusion, but because she is such a huge part of the imaginations of women of every age, especially young girls."
Below, Wade reflects on the the history and significance of Barbie, the inspiration behind the campaign and empowering her community.
What is your first memory of playing with Barbie?
Cleo Wade: "I don't think I have a memory from my childhood that doesn't include Barbie. When I close my eyes and look back to the rooms of the apartments I grew up in, I see her everywhere."
How did you approach crafting the messaging for this Barbie campaign?
CW: "Whenever I start a new project, I always write down on a sheet of paper my focus and inspiration, it is kind of like a mantra that keeps me connected to why something is important to me and what I want to be able to communicate to my community. For this, I wrote down "Black Women are Black History: yesterday, today, and tomorrow." I wanted to emphasize that no matter how you slice it, America would not be America without the bravery, hard work, strategizing, and vision of Black Women. Black Women have been and continue to be on the frontline of every social movement that makes our country freer and/or more just."
How do you hope these dolls inspire others?
CW: "I hope that young Black Girls will see themselves in this. I hope they will see the powerful ancestry of Black Womanhood. Black Girl Magic is real and it has existed for a very very long time. I hope young Black Girls will see this and know how important they are, know how much they matter, and have always mattered. Black women are nation-shapers and world-changers."
Why is it important to you to team with brands like Barbie as a way of empowering the Black community?
CW: "I am so grateful that brands like Barbie are so passionate about and dedicated to supporting Black Community through representation. Representation matters. Especially for young people. Whenever I collaborate with any brand, it is because they share my values and allow me to be my whole self. Barbie and I were completely aligned on this project and the story we wanted to tell through these images. It has been a dream collaboration.
As far as empowering the Black communities in America, it is important to remember that Black community exists today because of its ability to empower itself — the people on the ground, the teachers, the educators, the organizers, historians, social workers, local entrepreneurs, aunties, grandmothers, artists and mentors are who empower the Black Community. We are shining the light on this by creating images of these people protesting for change."
What's your advice to those who want to get involved in causes supporting BIPOC communities? How do you encourage peers to stay away from performative allyship?
CW: "Don't try to reinvent the wheel. There are people in every community doing incredible work to make their spaces safer and more just. Get in touch with them. Don't try to help just to feel good about yourself, ask how you can be useful, investigate, see what the real needs are and ask how you can help ends meet."
Next up for Wade includes launching her first children's book, What the Road Said (out March 23) which celebrates a person's journey through life and the questions they ask along the way.