About one out of every five students report being bullied, according to the National Bullying Prevention Center. For African-American students that number jumps to almost one out of four.
Current sixth grader Kheris Pollard seemed to face bullying fueled by racism no matter where she went. First, it was at an elementary school where Kheris was one of only four black girls in her class. Kheris’ older sister, Taylor, told BuzzFeed News that because of the bullying, Kheris “started to notice she was different. She would cry a lot, and talk about how she doesn’t like her skin tone.”
Their mom decided to enroll Kheris in a different, more diverse school by second grade, but while the situation improved, the negative comments didn’t stop. This time, however, it was colorism, meaning the comments came from other black students who bullied Kheris for her skin which was darker than their own. “She’s learned now, since people have been reaching out to her and giving her positive energy, how to deal with the kind of stuff, since colorism really is a prominent issue,” Taylor said.
But in March, Kheris received praise and affirmation from thousands after a tweet posted by Kheris’ sister Taylor went viral. The tweet featured two pictures of Kheris posing after her sister helped style her for a fashion show, complete with the hashtag #FlexinInHerComplexion. The caption read “My sister is 10, but already royalty” and received over 30,000 retweets and 80,000 likes.
“I just wanted to encourage her to speak out and stand up for what she believes in,” Taylor said. Taylor is Kheris’ manager, answering inquiries and talking to vendors about Kheris’ ideas. “After that a lot of people started reaching out to Kheris, giving her positive feedback, letting her know they went through the same struggles when they were her age” her sister said. “That’s when we knew we should start the clothing line, something to inspire other people.”
From there, Kheris started her own Twitter account with help from her mom and sister, @KherisPoppin, and a t-shirt line in late April.
Every item from Kheris’ shop, Flexin in My Complexion, proclaims “Flexin’ in my Complexion” in big, bold letters. “The letters are in bold because I want my message to be bold,” Kheris said. The phrase itself comes from her grandmother, who said it to counteract the racially-motivated bullying. “It’s a phrase she’s said to us our whole lives,” Kheris said.
“Flexin’ in my Complexion is really just about empowering people to love themselves,” Taylor added.
Since starting her clothing line, Kheris has received emails from kids and adults sharing their own experiences of racism and colorism. She makes sure to tell them to “always be yourself. It doesn’t matter what other people say about you, or what you look like on the outside. It’s what you look like on the inside.”
Kheris hopes to introduce new styles, like bomber jackets, and colors to her clothesline, but her ambitions go even further than that. She is inspired by actresses like Zendaya and Skai Jackson, young, successful black women who serve as representation for kids in an industry overrun by white actors. Zendaya’s own history of bullying due to her mixed race strongly resonates with Kheris.
“I want to do more things than just a clothing line to empower people,” she said. In addition to being a triple threat, “I want to see myself encouraging Beyonce’s young kids one day.”
Pictures from Kheris’ Instagram: @KherisPoppin