Princess Of 'Fresh Prince' Brings History To Children : Code Switch Karyn Parsons, best known for her role as Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, now runs an organization that makes animated short films about influential African-Americans throughout history.
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Princess Of 'Fresh Prince' Brings History To Children

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Princess Of 'Fresh Prince' Brings History To Children

Princess Of 'Fresh Prince' Brings History To Children

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Thanks for sticking with us here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. You might know Karyn Parsons as that airhead princess Hilary Banks from "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air."


KARYN PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) Dad, I need $300.

JANET HUBERT: (As Vivian Banks) Hillary your cousin will is here.

PARSONS: (As Hilary Banks) Hi. Dad I need $300.

MCEVERS: Today Karyn Parsons has a different priority. She runs an organization called "Sweet Blackberry," producing short animated films for children about influential, yet little known African-Americans. When I spoke to her earlier this week she said the idea started many years ago.

PARSONS: My mother was a librarian and she would call me from time to time with interesting stories that she came across. She shared with me one day the story of Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who had literally nailed himself to freedom in a box, from Virginia to Pennsylvania. None of my friends had heard this story either and I thought, that's crazy, how come we don't know about this guy? So, I started making notes about it and I would put it aside and then come back and when I was pregnant with my daughter many years later, I started to really think about my responsibility as a parent supplementing my child's education. What do I want her to learn? What do I need to bring to her on my own. Finally I arrived at "Sweet Blackberry."


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: I've come very far. Still no man is free unless we all are.

MCEVERS: So your first film was about Henry "Box" Brown and then the second film you made was about an inventor.

PARSONS: Yeah, Garrett Morgan, I mean he's fascinating man. This is the inventor of the traffic signal, as well as the gas mask and a bunch of other things.


UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: And suddenly he jumped up and exclaimed, I've got it, a traffic signal...

PARSONS: Our focus on Garrett's gift is on the traffic signal 'cause also our age group, you know, we have really little kids, that's something that they're learning about and navigating.

MCEVERS: And now you're raising money to do a new one about a ballerina named Janet Collins. Who was she?

PARSONS: Janet Collins was the first African-American prima ballerina. At 15-years-old, in 1932 she was asked by the ballet Russe of Monte Carlo to join their dance troupe, which was just unprecedented at the time for a black dancer to be asked. The condition would be that she would have to perform in Whiteface. So, she was devastated but she still said no. Instead she worked extra hard and she would end up becoming the first black prima ballerina and the first black soloist at the Metropolitan Opera. In schools we learn about a handful of stories, great stories but still we're missing out on so much, we want to celebrate black history but we don't want to separate it from American history. We've been fortunate enough to bring Chris Rock on to narrate the Janet Collins story and we have a Kickstarter campaign right now, we're in our last week and I've been fortunate enough to be able to bring my Fresh Prince family on. Everybody's kicking in to do it.

MCEVERS: Many people remember you as Hillary Banks on "The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air"

PARSONS: Oh, yeah.

MCEVERS: You know, it's almost 20 years since then. I just wondered if you could tell us a little bit about how we got here. What have you been doing over the years?

PARSONS: Nothing. Nothing.


PARSONS: I continued acting for a while after the Fresh Prince but I had two kids, let's face it. I became a mom.

MCEVERS: An honorable profession.

PARSONS: Wouldn't trade it for anything. That's my everything really. I've never stopped loving acting, it's just, you know, my perspective has changed and my priorities have changed and that's what I've just been working on.

MCEVERS: Karyn Parsons is the founder of "Sweet Blackberry." I want to thank you so much for your time today Karyn.

PARSONS: Thank you very much.

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