UPPER MARLBORO, Md. — As another Juneteenth approaches and a celebration of Black history and culture envelopes the country, one Maryland dad has worked hard to help families everywhere engage in a bit of Black joy that's not highlighted often enough - inspired by his very own childhood, growing up in Southeast D.C.
Paris White remembers fondly the days spent telling his daughter all kinds of stories - like cooling off in the sprinkles of a city fire hydrant on a sticky summer's afternoon or rollerskating around Anacostia Park. When he wasn't in class at C.W. Harris Elementary, he was riding bikes until dinnertime alongside his big brother and cousin, always getting into something new.
Those were the '80s in Eastgate - near Benning Road - that White remembers so vividly.
"When I was young, it was a beautiful community; I could go anywhere," White said. "I didn't have to worry about over-policing. I didn't have to worry about violence in my neighborhood. I was able to really have an enjoyable childhood."
After years of hearing her husband's tales, White's wife offered up an idea - why not write a book of those joyful, funny, adventurous storylines?
The next thing she knew, she was a featured character.
"I made her the neighborhood tattletale because she's always telling me everything [I'm not supposed] to do," he said with a laugh.
First came the children's books, and soon after that, he was making board games.
"I just felt like when my daughter was born, and I would go to the toy store - I remember I bought her a doll house, and I was trying to find a Black male figure to be in the dollhouse," he recalls. "They had a Black female and maybe a Black baby, but where was the dad?"
White said at one point he grew so frustrated, he called the toy company himself to ask how he could find a Black male figure for his daughter's playtime.
"It's just not fair that all we ever have is white representation of children and families," White said. "So I wanted to make something that represented us as well because it's important for our children to see themselves represented. So much of our history is washed out, and you only [talk about] slavery. People need to see themselves other than being slaves or coming from these harsh backgrounds . . . Whether you were poor or rich, you still had a childhood."
That's why White's board game folds in the many positive and uplifting experiences from his own youth - all mostly true, with a little embellishing here and there, to entertain young players. Plus, the game also incorporates Black history trivia cards, so everyone playing learns something new while enjoying a good time.
White said the game isn't meant just for a Black audience; it's a multicultural game, showing anyone who plays some positive representation of what it meant to grow up in the city beyond the harmful stereotypes.
"When you look at my board game, you just see a community: family and kids running around and playing; that's what I saw," he said.
The first of his board games arrived on his doorstep in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic - the same day he was laid off from his job as a warehouse manager. White said it was moments like that making him feel like his board game is part of his divine purpose.
"I knew God had a different path for me," he said of the life pivot.
Today, the products are already sold in 16 stores with plans to expand, and White has already experienced nods and new project offers from museums to cultural centers and boards of education.
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