ST. PETERSBURG — Rasheedah Sharif gave a black history presentation using her handmade doll collection and reading from the book titled “Mahalia Jackson, Walking with Kings and Queens” to the children who gathered at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum Sat., Feb. 21. The Princesses Book Reading Club enjoyed a great morning of arts, culture, fun and education while the parents looked on.
Much to her surprise, within 15 minutes the reading club was standing room only. “The people were asking questions and were interested,” Sharif said.
The author, educator and doll maker was pleased and enjoyed sharing history with the children; some of them hearing these stories for the first time. Each person learns in a different way, she said, and the children seemed to be in awe, as they watched the stories unfold right before their eyes.
Sharif said it’s one thing to sit and tell a story from a book, but when the children see the tangible characters and the dramatization it stimulates them and they tend to remember more.
“The dolls tell a story. They help the children understand history,” Sharif said. “There are such details in the dolls.”
She explained that their eyes are the color of gemstones and crystals and are symbolic of the eyes being a passageway to the soul.
The artist reveals the inspiration for creating the dolls dates back to September 11, 2001, amidst the World Trade Center’s collapse. Making the dolls had a calming effect on her. During that time it was common for her to take the train from New Jersey where she lived to New York.
Angel Kha was the first of many dolls she created and also the first in her angel collection. She said Kha means “essence of the spirit,” and now she has a variety of angel dolls.
The colors she uses when creating the dolls has great significance to her; she teaches color therapy and color meditation throughout the Tampa Bay area and feels that color and its meaning is part of a holistic way of living.
Her creative history lesson included how traditions and values are passed down from generation to generation. She explained that some things are passed from father to son, mother to daughter, grandmother to grandchild and so on. She also wanted the children to know that families come in all forms, not just the traditional family with a mom, dad and children.
Rasheedah had nine dolls that consisted of the Mother, Father, Daughter, Son, Queen Hetep, Freedom Fighter, Lady Jazz, Grandmother and Granddaughter.
After her performance she was invited to do another presentation at a nearby school and she welcomed the opportunity.
Sharif taught school from 1985-2012 in New Jersey and Florida and is now dedicating her life to giving back. Her “Keep it Moving” initiative for teen girls and women is geared toward helping them discover strategies for coping in difficult situations. She can often be found leading seminars, workshops and classes addressing self-empowerment, abuse and communication at universities, schools and community centers. She is currently working on her doctorate in educational leadership.