$14K American Girl Trip Breaks Down Racial Barriers for Bed-Stuy Students

By Paul DeBenedetto on June 18, 2013 7:34am 

Slideshow
 Rob Robinson was inspired to treat the girls after hearing them dismiss the idea of ever going.
A teacher took 27 underprivileged students to the 'American Girl' store.
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A Bed-Stuy teacher wants his female students to know they're all American Girls.

Rob Robinson took his class on a $14,000 trip to the swanky Midtown doll store after hearing his students describe racial divisions they thought made the toys unattainable.

"That's a place that white girls go to," the special-education teacher heard one of the students at P.S. 28 say as they chatted about the brand's flagship store on Fifth Avenue that not only sells the pricey dolls, but even lets customers take tea with them.

The statement shocked the Robinson.

At P.S. 28, a school where an estimated 80 percent of children qualify for free lunch, the idea of traveling to Midtown and buying the expensive dolls felt like a dream that would never be fulfilled.

"When I heard that, I said, 'Well, no, that's not the case," Robinson said.

On Thursday, after raising more than $14,000 through a donation-based website, Robinson fulfilled that dream for 27 of those 7- to 10-year-olds.

The money, raised through a website that Robinson set up called "27 Girls of Color to American Girl NYC," allowed Robinson and a group of chaperones to buy the girls dolls, new clothes and shoulder bags. It also paid for a private dining experience with the toys in the store.

Most importantly, it taught them they could have the same experiences as anyone else, Robinson said.

"I decided I had to help change their perception of themselves and their worth," he said. "This is less about the dolls, and more about telling them you have access to any place."

On the website, donors were encouraged to donate as little or as much as they could. They also left messages for the young students.

"Young ladies, you are going to have a fabulous time!" read a message from Kathryn A. Williams, Esq. "I'm proud to support you and your trip, and think American Girl will never be the same after seeing your bright and beautiful faces!"

"You are going to have an amazing and very special day," read another message, from Gwen DeVoe. "Remember, you were born princesses. Continue to be your own kind of beautiful. Have fun!"

American Girl did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the trip.

This isn't the first time Robinson has taken P.S. 28 kids on trips. In 2011, he took a group of students to the Russian Tea Room, followed by a Broadway show.

Robinson said he was inspired by his own experiences growing up in the Farragut Houses in Fort Greene and participating in the Fresh Air Fund and the NAACP's Brooklyn Youth Council.

Through those programs, he got to experience more of the country than he would have otherwise been able to, Robinson said.

"There are things outside the physical walls that I lived in," Robinson said. "I lived in the projects. That showed me there was a whole world outside of that."

Now Robinson, who lives in Brooklyn Heights, said he's passed those lessons on to his own three children, and hopes that he can have the same effect on his students. 

"Our children have those experiences, these children don't," Robinson said. "I just feel like these are my kids, too."

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