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From Largest Black Doll Show to First Black Doll Museum in Shipping Containers

This month we at the Beauty of Detroit Box are celebrating Women’s History Month by shining a spotlight on the women in Detroit making a huge difference with our Beauties in Detroit Making History series!

Overcoming all odds placed in her way, Sandra Epps didn’t let three near death experiences due to lupus, prevent her from following her dreams and living a life of purpose. Sandra Epps is the visionary behind Sandy’s Land and the iconic Detroit Doll Show. She has used her story, and a mission to empower young girls/women within the historical landscape of the city in a way that has been nothing short of intentional, inspirational and impactful. Her latest passion projects include indoor and outdoor entertainment with the Butterfly Garden and Black Doll Museum. We are also excited to get her take on what the beauty of Detroit means to her. Let’s get to know more about Sandy in our conversation below.

Tell us about yourself and the inspiration behind your business.

I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus at the age of 14 and this truly changed my life in its entirety. My dreams of being a veterinarian had changed and my self-esteem dropped to its lowest. I remember how horrible I felt with all the gossip after losing my hair and ballooning up to nearly 200 pounds at 4’11” because of the dis-ease and the medication.  After being confined to a wheelchair twice and surviving three near death experiences due to lupus I was motivated to encourage girls to love themselves. I never wanted another girl to suffer like I had personally or emotionally.

In 2005 I established Sandy’s Land where our motto is “We Party With a Purpose!” We provide art parties, the Detroit Doll Show, books and accessories that include messages of hope, love and faith. The art party designs have inspirational titles such as “Let Your Light SHINE,” I Am MAGIC, Spread Love and Vision is Everything, just to name a few. In addition, the designs include images of women and girls with different skin tones and hairstyles such as braids, locs, twists, head-wraps and Afro puffs.

In 2011 Sandy’s Land LLC founded the Detroit Doll Show which is the largest in the nation. We celebrate history, culture, self-love and diversity with the promotion of dolls of color.

In addition, I’ve written two children’s books: Imani Has the Most Exciting Dream! This heartwarming story introduces young readers to the power of affirmation and Girl Power Discover the Princess Within is a journal book that provides girls with helpful tools to tap into their greatness. Finally, my first adult book geared toward women, Girlfriend, It’s Time to SoarA Journal for Personal Transformation which is a self help book to encourage ladies to jumpstart their epic mission, set new habits, prompt positive introspection as they journal their way to the life that they desire.

Already an innovator in your field as having the largest Black Doll Show in the Midwest. Why do you feel Detroit needs a Black Doll Museum right now? 

Detroit is a City known for innovators and historical moments. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his first “I Have a Dream” speech on June 23, 1963 during the Great Walk to Freedom in Detroit. It is still considered to be the “largest civil rights demonstration in the nation’s history.” We are the city where the best music was created by various artists at Motown Records and the Dr. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History was once the largest African American historical museum in the world. Unions were developed in the City of Detroit, the Auto Industry and Techno Music just to name a few things.

I think it’s befitting to have the Butterfly Garden and Black Doll Museum developed in the city of Detroit on vacant lots. I will be transforming a blighted area with something impactful. The goal is to help the environment, uplift black culture and empower the community. To elevate the good of black people is my way of fighting against injustice; especially in a City that is considered one of the Blackest, having 82% African American population.

What is your personal connection to the butterfly and why was it important for you to include them as not only a symbol, but soon physically in your business. 

The butterfly is my muse. It’s also symbolic of the rash that appears on the lupus patient’s face when they are experiencing a flare-up. In addition, it represents peace, hope, prosperity and transformation. The butterfly reminds me of where I’ve been (surviving death three times) and that I’m always growing, transforming on this journey. And having hope in my heart that my work makes a difference.

What is or was your greatest challenge and biggest accomplishment or strength?

My biggest accomplishment was getting my college degree. I was transitioning out of the wheelchair taking one class per semester when I first registered at Wayne State University. The doctor’s told my mother that my brain would suffer serious side effects due to the high dosage of medications administered to me to prevent my death. I was determined to be the first in my family to graduate from college and I did so with honors. Despite the doctors prediction of me not being capable to learn.

Why is representation and empowerment vital for young black girls and women?

Society continues to demonstrate in movies, books, toys, etc. that the standard of beauty is a white female with blonde straight hair, thin and blue eyes. Although things are better than twenty years prior, however, black and brown people continue to fight for representation. Most characters on television would and sometimes still do portray women of color as prostitutes, uneducated, drug users, criminals or overly sexualized. Representation indicates to black girls and women that they matter. It’s healthy for black women and girls morale to show-up as their authentic selves, while acknowledging their black culture by wearing braids, locs, twist-outs or Afros as being acceptable and not to be frowned upon in society. Case in point, the Kansas Cheerleader who was kicked off the team for wearing braids last year. These unfortunate events are still happening in the 21st century.

For the majority of American History black girls grew up playing with white dolls as the norm. When a black girl sees her reflection in her books and dolls this provides her with a sense of worth. Research shows that children who see themselves in their toys grow up to be confident and more productive people. Empowerment starts with reflection. 

 What is the beauty of Detroit to you? 

The Beauty of Detroit is the creative and resilient people who keep the history alive and then there are the historic treasures or stories that make the city fascinating and depict the strength of Black people. For example, the Underground Railroad that led to Second Baptist Church which was a network of people that offered shelter and aid to the escaped enslaved black people. Black Bottom which was a predominantly Black neighborhood in Detroit, MI that was demolished for the “redevelopment.” This happened in the early 1960’s and Paradise Valley was connected to it which historically included the Black Pioneers and entertainers of the 1930’s. Then there’s the story of Dr. Ossian Sweet, a black physician who purchased a house at 2905 Garland Rd. in 1925 at the time it was an all white neighborhood in Detroit. Dr. Sweet and companions protected themselves in the home from a mob of racist. One man was killed and another was injured. Dr. Sweet and others were arrested but were released due to a mistrial. Next there’s the Julian Madison Building built in Downtown Detroit in 1924 by an African American and his daughter Sharon Madison Polk owns it now. Presently, there are a small number of large buildings in Downtown Detroit that are owned by an African American. 

What is your advice to future female entrepreneurs? 

My best advice to future female entrepreneurs is to be consistent. “Success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally, it comes from what you do consistently.” And never get involved in a business just for the sake of money, it’s imperative to find something that you enjoy doing. There will be challenging days in business, it goes with the territory. As an entrepreneur you need something to inspire you to keep going. You will be more productive if you’re passionate about your work.

Be it that we are celebrating Women’s History Month, think of a black woman that inspires you. What would you like to share with her about the impact she has had on your life? 

There is the incomparable Actress Viola Davis and Ernestine Shepherd, the oldest bodybuilder listed in the Guinness Book of World Records. I actually mention both of them in my recent book, however. I would love to tell Josephine Baker that her fight against racial injustice while being a fearless and mesmerizing performer during segregation gives me strength to keep going when times get rough.

Josephine Baker came from humble beginnings. She was rejected from a group for being “too skinny and too dark.” Later she became a box office draw adding a comedic touch to her stage performance. She was a civil rights activist. Ms. Baker refused to perform at segregated venues. She also did undercover work that included smuggling secret messages written on her music sheets. Ms. Baker did things on her own terms. She displayed empowerment at a time when being a woman and black was truly difficult. I look forward to visiting her mansion in Paris. It’s been on my vision board for over five years. Josephine Baker was born on June 3, 1906 and she performed up till her death on April 12, 1975.

Thank you Sandy for being a fierce advocate for positive representation for not only our city, but for the young girls and women who you’ve afforded a safe space to be themselves! If you would like to support the construction of the Black Doll Museum set to begin this year, you can donate to https://gofund.me/ba3cb2a4 or with the purchase of her latest book which will go towards the Butterfly Garden and Black Doll Museum at www.SandysLandLLC.com. Check back each week this month to meet another phenomenal woman a part of our series! If you’d like to be informed when our next feature is posted join our mailing list.

Hello! I’m a Detroit native and owner of Beauty of Detroit Box.

I am a 26 year old Detroit native and resident. I am a proud product of Detroit Public Schools, graduating from Cass Tech. I am an alumna of Wayne State University with BFA in Acting and a recent 2020 graduate of Eastern Michigan University with my Master of Fine Arts in Applied Drama and Theatre for the Young. As an artist, teacher and now business owner, it is my passion to overaccentuate the good in our community by doing more good.

Beauty of Detroit Box is a gift box where you will discover premium local, artisan and organic beauty and lifestyle products from metro Detroit small businesses. Our boxes are a gateway to the artisans, craft makers and doers of our city.

By Tayler Jones

As a 26 year old artist and Detroit native I seek to focus on sharing stories of the innovative and resilient people in our city and not its negative criticism. Therefore, to over accentuate the good and support local businesses, our gift boxes are a gateway to the artisans, craft makers and doers in the city. This blog is in honor of them and the great things happening in our community!

One reply on “From Largest Black Doll Show to First Black Doll Museum in Shipping Containers”

I love both stories Sandy is a friend of mine we met many years ago in a private aerobics class. I loved her and her energy then and I love her more even today. I’m so proud of you Sandra. May God continue to keep you covered and bless. May God continue to cover and bless the other young lady as well. Both have inspired me yo not give up on opening my business this year. Thank you ladies for Sharing your beautiful stories. GOD bless you both

Liked by 1 person

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