Brooke Hart Jones didn’t know much about Hampton University when she applied for admission in the late 90s. She just knew that when her friend, also a prospective student, talked about his experience while on a tour there, he glowed.
“Attending an HBCU, particularly Hampton was one of the most pivotal decisions I’ve made in life honestly,” Hart Jones shared with Essence. “And I think my story is pretty reflective of my friends’ who would say the same. The experience just really affects every aspect of your life: academically, professionally, personally. I graduated over two decades ago and I’m still friends with my classmates. The bond is different.”
After graduating from Hampton University in 2002, she said she continued to lean on the personal and professional connections forged during undergrad to build her career in merchandising.
Her college experience is one Hart Jones said every Black child deserves to have, so when she was looking to purchase an HBCU-branded doll for a friend’s child, she was confused by the lack of options out there.
“I went to search online to find one because in my mind, it exists—surely this exists,” she said. “For some reason, I felt I had seen it. So I went online to try an place an order, and I couldn’t find anything. And I’m like, ‘wait a minute. Are there not any Hampton dolls out there?’ So I start searching for different HBCU affiliated dolls. Couldn’t find anything. I’m like this doesn’t exist. I was shocked at that moment and I stepped back. I’m a former toy buyer as well, so when I realized they did not exist, that side of my brain went off. And my love of HBCUs and knowledge of the industry melded together–that’s how HBCYoU Dolls started.”
During the pandemic, Hart Jones created a line of dolls that represented various key moments of the HBCU experience including a homecoming queen figure, cheerleaders and student body president.
Less than two years later, Jones partnered with prominent Black-owned toy company Purpose Toys to release the collection of three 18-inch dolls donning natural hairstyles. Now, they’re being sold in Target and the consumer reception has been great.
“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “Purpose Toys is a big part of that which I love because they are a Black-owned startup that really wants to center and celebrate communities of color. I’m just so happy I’m able to show my gratitude to the institutions that helped shape me and so many others, while also inspiring the next generation to be Black, proud and great.”