The Untold Stories of Minority Heroes, Karyn Parsons Shares What History Has Omitted


Photo courtesy of Karyn Parson’s website

Eddie Stewart, Staff Writer

Karyn Parsons, the actress, author, and nonprofit founder, has been giving lectures at universities to share the importance of black excellence, specifically those who have done great deeds but received little recognition.

Parsons is best known for her role as Hilary Banks on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a culturally significant sitcom that stopped running nearly 27 years ago. In 2005, she launched a content company that believes Black history is everyone’s history, according to her website.

Parsons is the founder of Sweet Blackberry, a nonprofit dedicated to telling the lesser-known stories at the core of Black American history to children through short films, illustrated children’s books, and school visits. Parsons is also the author of the 2019 novel “How High the Moon,” a middle grade historical fiction set in South Carolina during the Jim Crow Era. 

On March 30, the Multicultural and Leadership Development Center hosted “Journey of Unsung Heroes,” where Parsons shared the true stories of Black American inventors, trailblazers, and artists that impact our lives today. 

Although Parsons has spent nearly 20 years focused on this mission, she didn’t start out wanting to tell these stories. According to Parsons, Sweet Blackberry “only came about because my mother was a librarian. When I was an adult, she would call me from time to time and tell me stories that she came across at the black resource center.” 

One such story was that of Henry Box Brown – an enslaved man who mailed himself to his freedom. As Parsons puts it, “he had a box built, had someone nail it shut and put postage on it, and then survived a 27-hour journey, by wagon, boat, and train. When they opened it and he survived, he was a free man!” 

Parsons was inspired by the story, but said that the truly mystifying part of it was the fact that she had never heard it before. In fact, as Parsons said, “nobody that I talked to had heard this story before, and I thought about what a great story it was to bring to kids. His determination and his triumph were inspirational.”

It would be years after Parsons pivoted from acting to writing when she would again consider the story of Brown for a potential adaptation. After she became pregnant with her first child and thought about what exactly she would be taught, Parsons knew that she had to start working on the project she had been thinking about.

Through the connections she made as an actor, Parsons found that she had the contacts and skills to start making films. She found plenty of support along the way.

“There were so many people trying to find ways to help. ‘I think my cousin knows someone who illustrates books, I think’- everybody was leading to something else. Before you know it, I was writing,” Parsons said.

Sweet Blackberry’s first release was The Journey of Henry ‘Box’ Brown in 2005. The organization has produced 5 true tales of Black American history since. However, despite her yearslong efforts, Parsons says she doesn’t consider herself an activist.

 “I’m not actively trying to be an activist… I feel like I’m just trying to tell the truth. It’s simple as that. As I go on and I do this, it just makes me realize how necessary it is, how much the children light up and engage.” 

Parsons believes that her efforts to teach history are part of a greater whole. 

 “One day, I imagine we’d shed the label of black history, introduce it as just history— American history.”