Photo: American Girl

Our recent visit to American Girl Place was an amazing experience. The last 17 years have been intense for Taylor. Born with deafness and diagnosed with autism at the age of 5, each birthday has meant something different for us. In some instances, it has been marked by sadness, another year that her developmental goals were unmet. Others birthdays were celebrated in my graduate school dining hall, surrounded by adults and no children.

This birthday was special because though she is seventeen years old, developmentally she is younger, and having a party filled with pink treats and dolls is an amazing experience. Since moving to the Dallas Fort Worth area for my husband’s job in June, we have been met with great hospitality, and we are enjoying our time here. Having family in the area and a few friends has been a bonus as well. We are grateful for an amazing gathering at the American Girl Place. The bonus of celebrating at American Girl Place, on top of the delicious bistro menu and the top-notch customer service, was the opportunity to celebrate the arrival of the new Melody doll. After studying about the civil rights era in graduate school, it is symbolic now in history for American Girl to introduce the Melody doll.

The Melody doll has a great history and has been in the works for a while. Melody Ellison—civil rights believer, chorus leader, and daughter of Detroit—hits the scene and inspires girls and their families to be a force for growth and change. With hope, enthusiasm, and a solid sense of fairness, 9-year-old Melody provides a glimpse of life during the 1960s—a significant decade for the civil rights movement in America and a time of great energy, optimism, challenges, and change. With the struggle for equality and justice still prevalent today, Melody bridges the past and present for girls and shows them how ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they come together to make a meaningful difference.

To help ensure the historical accuracy and cultural authenticity of Melody’s story and products, an esteemed six-member advisory board was selected to review and provide input on all aspects of Melody’s development—including the doll, books, outfits, accessories, issues, and story setting. The board members include the late Horace Julian Bond, chairman emeritus, NAACP Board of Directors and founding member of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Gloria House, director and professor emerita, African and African American Studies, University of Michigan-Dearborn; Juanita Moore, President and CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit and founding executive director of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis; Rebecca de Schweinitz, associate professor of history, Brigham Young University, Utah, and author of If We Could Change the World: Young People and America’s Long Struggle for Racial Equality; Thomas J. Sugrue, professor of history at New York University and author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North; and JoAnn Watson, native of Detroit, ordained minister, and former executive director of the Detroit NAACP.

My first experience with American Girl was over 20 years ago. My cousin received the historic Molly doll as a gift. There were no interracial dolls during that time, so she had the one that mirrored her the most. Molly’s school girl look of a blue plaid sweater and wool skirt was perfection. The name was fitting, and the main accessory that mirrored my cousin’s look were the wire framed glasses that she wore. I was in awe. American Girl had yet to come out with a doll that looked like me, but I still soaked in the fun. Given the opportunity to receive a doll during that time, I would have chosen Samantha. She had the most amazing clothes, and her sense of class was unmatched. The American Girl tradition is all the rage now, but it still has the charm and magic that it did when I was a child. My cousin and I had great adventures playing and using our imaginations to bring the doll to life. For my family, this experience was confirmation of the possibility  of love and unity existing beyond racial boundaries.