Television audiences know Karyn Parsons from her iconic role as Hilary Banks on the hit NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but the actress has another passion: Black History. Through the Sweet Blackberry Foundation, Parsons aims to bring little known stories of African-American achievement to children around the world. So far, her organization has produced three animated films—The Janet Collins Story, Garrett’s Gift, and The Journey of Henry Box Brown—and she hopes to bring even more unsung narratives to light.
Though many may believe Parsons has the resources to produce the projects on her own because of her celebrity pals and her hit ‘90s TV show, the actress says that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I was on TV for six years from 1990 to 1996 and everybody thinks I’m rich. No…I didn’t go on to be Will Smith” she laughs. “It couldn’t be further from the truth.”
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To help fund more narratives, Parsons turned to Kickstarter, the crowdfunding platform that helps content creators connect with donors. Back in 2014, the actress raised over $77,000 to help bring The Janet Collins Story to life and keep Sweet Blackberry’s mission alive.
“Sweet Blackberry is a non-profit organization, the money goes to keep the organization going. So I definitely need help,” she says. Though Parsons exceeded her fundraising goal, she was weary of using the platform because of it’s all-or-nothing model of funding projects.
“It was an amazing experience, but it was scary,” she says. “The community that supported it was really invigorating and unexpected to me. So many people from completely unexpected places were up at all hours pushing it on social media. They were so active and supportive and believed in the project–complete
strangers–and that just brought me to tears, repeatedly, but also bolstered me through this whole thing. Because it’s scary. You get 30 days and you got to get every last cent of what you’re going for or you don’t get to keep a single cent. It’s frightening.”
The process may have been scary for the actress, but as she gears up for her second Kickstarter campaign (launching June 20) to help produce an animated film about Bessie Coleman that will be narrated by Laurence Fishburne, Parsons says she’ll draw upon the lessons she learned from her first go ‘round.
“Organization is a life-saver. The more I can have planned out, the easier it is and less-anxiety producing it is,” she says. “Before I started the campaign last time, my husband did a campaign a few month before for finishing funds for his film, and I remember he would sit there all day, hunched over the computer,” she says. “Three months later I was hunched over the computer for the entire 30 days, writing people and doing updates.
So I learned it’s intense work, but by the end of it, I felt like I had ideas for organization so I can do it better the next time.”
Parsons also has some advice for others looking to leverage Kickstarter to help support their work. “Get help, and get volunteers who can help you move it along quickly and efficiently,” she advises.
“Before starting, calendar out what you think your days will look like. There will undoubtedly be surprises, but if you can have your to-do list spread out properly over the 30 days, it doesn’t have to take up your entire day,” she says. “Also, get good rewards that you know you can deliver that aren’t going
to cost you an arm and a leg in shipping and handling.”
In the end, no matter how nerve-racking the process may have been, Parsons believes turning to Kickstarter was totally worth it.
“It’s really gratifying in the end to say, ‘We did this. We all did this,’” she says.