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Harlem Grandmother Answers Call For Dolls Of Color This Holiday Season

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - If you are a parent searching stores in central Harlem for toys this holiday season, you may have a hard time finding one that looks like your child.

"I started looking through the shelves and they had rows of dolls, but none, not one of color," said Tony Rahsaan. "And I just kind of thought it was strange that you could have like aliens. You could have Charlie Brown, you've got Snoopy, but not one doll that represented, you know, the community."

Rahsaan took to his Instagram page, "The Best of Harlem," to share his experience, and show his followers where they could find dolls of color, Grandma's Place, located at West 120th Street and Malcolm X Boulevard.

"Once I discovered it, I was just like, this is an absolute gem for Harlem, so people need to know about it," Rahsaan said.

"Grandma" is Dawn Harris-Martine. She has been curating her collection for the culture for two decades.

"I would go to the toy fair and I would capture the Barbie people and say, 'When are you going to start making dolls that look like us?' And after about four years of bugging them, they started doing it and they saw that those dolls sold," remembers Grandma Dawn.

Grandma's Place has not always been about fun and games. It started as a literacy center, but the mission has always been representation. Grandma Dawn reiterated to CBS2's Jessi Mitchell how important it is for children to play with toys that look like them.

"It makes them feel like they're special and that they're worth something and raises their confidence in themselves," she said.

This week, Mitchell went shopping to see what was on sale for neighborhood kids. In big box stores along West 125th Street, options were limited. Mitchell had to go to East Harlem to find a major chain store with a variety that reflected the faces of the community.

Grandma's Place in Central Harlem (Credit: Jessi Mitchell/CBS2)

Grandma Dawn is stocked up for the season, though, with empowerment on the brain.

"Let them see how saving their money and investing their money can change their lives," the proprietor said as she showed off one of her favorite children's business books, "Make Your Own Money" by Ty Allan Jackson.

The grandmother of two was an entrepreneur from a young age, but not by choice.

"I was a very enterprising young child," she explained. "I wasn't allowed off my block, so there was a beauty parlor, a barber shop, a laundromat and a grocery store and a luncheonette on the block. And I ran errands between those stores for each other. And I had money, and with my money, I could buy food, the food I wanted and prepared my own food. And I was self-sustaining because... my mother was away."

Grandma Dawn explained to Mitchell why she never had toys growing up.

"I would have played with my if I had them," she said. "But my mom was a single mom. She had three jobs... so she didn't have any time or any money to spend on frivolous things and for her, toys were frivolous. So Christmas time, we got coats, underwear, you know, shoes… when I was 22 years old and I had a job on my own, I got my first toy and that was a G.I. Joe and I bought it myself. But I love toys, and that's why I have a toy store."

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