Actress Karyn Parsons Aims to Make Black History Sweet

Tatyana Ali and Karyn Parsons share a moment at a fundraiser for Sweet Blackberry.

By Dennis J. Freeman

There are many stories about the wonderful contributions African Americans have made throughout this country that are hidden away.

 There are many tales of heroism, bravery and overachievement that have been buried beneath the hands of times and a lack of exploration.

Usually when there is a conversation on the topic of prominent African American accomplishment, only a handful of the same names with historical references are conjured up.

The truth of the matter is that there are so many stories that have gone untold. Parents, children and the greater society have gone into semi-automatic blackout mode when it comes to telling of stories of ordinary African Americans who achieved extraordinary things.

Many of these stories people have not heard of or have given a second thought about. Actress Karyn Parsons sees this issue as problematic. But the former star of the hit television show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, also views this as an opportunity for her to uncover those long-lost stories and present them to the public.

With her Hilary Banks’ days long behind her, Parsons has spent much of her time the last several years doing exhaustive research on the lives of many forgotten African American heroes.

The ultimate goal is to bring these individuals, like former slave Henry “Box” Brown, back to life so they are not forgotten in the form of television, documentary and written projects. Brown’s story of freedom prompted Parsons to produce more of these untold stories. Parsons then decided to launch the nonprofit organization Sweet Blackberry to do just that.

“I cannot get over the accomplishments that I come across on a day-to day basis that we never hear about,” Parsons told “There is this whole misconception that there have been just a handful of people doing things. We have so much more to do with building this country and being a real part of it. We’ve achieved so much. I really want to get those (stories) out there to people.”

What concerns Parsons as she uncovers unsung African Americans through her research is that much of black history has been put neatly in a box. That box is Black History Month. Black History Month limits the contributions of African Americans in this country.

It’s also a period where the usual names are floated about in schools and historical references are redundantly used, she said.

“I have to say that I have become more and more frustrated as I uncover all of these things,” said Parsons. “I think the part that frustrates me or angers me a little bit is Black History Month. I am getting angry because I’m realizing we need to drop the black off of it. That’s the part that’s pissing me off.

“This is history. This is American history. It’s everybody’s history. To me, it starts to apply when you have a few stories that we tell, you start to get this subliminal message that every once in a while that a special Negro comes along. That is dangerous. It’s not for black people. It’s American history. It should be in the books and have a place in the classroom all year long.”

Nicole Ari Parker, Tatyana Ali and Karyn Parsons hang out for a moment.

Sharing that history became a priority to Parsons as she walked around pregnant with her daughter, Lana. Parsons first thought about the concept while on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

But it wasn’t until being married and having children did her perspective on life changed to the degree of wanting to inform others about the lost history of anonymous African American heroes. 

Parsons credits her mother, a librarian who worked in the Black Resource Center of a South Los Angeles library for lighting that fire in her. Parsons, who is biracial, hopes to do the same with her own children as she creates these platforms of knowledge mainly aimed at kids 4 through7.

So far, Sweet Blackberry has been a successful venture for Parsons, having released two highly recommended educational DVDs-Garrett’s Gift and The Journey of Henry Box Brown.

 Parsons, who held a fundraiser this spring at the residence of Academy Award-winning actor Jamie Foxx to generate more money to fund upcoming projects, wants to see Sweet Blackberry get to a point where it is telling unknown stories routinely.

 “There are lots of stories out there that are really important and inspiring,” Parsons said. “They risk being lost entirely, and we miss out on the opportunity to learn so much. The more I see how many people that have done so much before me with far greater obstacles, the more I feel like a slacker. There’s so much more we could be doing.”

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