The Sweet Blackberry Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to bring little-known stories of African American achievement to children, in the hopes that by highlighting these individuals and their accomplishments today’s youth will be inspired and empowered to make histories of their own.

Founded by Karyn Parsons in 2005, the foundation uses outreach programs, educational films and teaching guides to take the stories to homes and schools. The foundation also hopes that the stories will allow children of all races and ethnicities to feel a sense of shared history.

Sweet Blackberry’s work is heavily based on research and has as its goal to teach academic or social skills that have long-lasting effects. By harnessing the power of the media, the Sweet Blackberry Foundation offers parents and educators an opportunity to plant seeds that not only educate but give the youth a sense of pride in their heritage.

Sweet Blackberry released its first DVD, “The Journey of Henry Box Brown,” narrated by Emmy award-winning actress Alfre Woodard, in 2005. The story brings to life the true tale of a man who shipped himself, in a box, from Virginia to Philadelphia to freedom.

“I heard the story from my mother who was working as a librarian,” said Parsons. “This was around the time that I was working on Fresh Prince. At the time she was heading up the Black Resource Center at the library and she would always call and tell me about stories that she had come across that were really interesting. So one day she told me the story of Henry ‘Box’ Brown and I was fascinated. I couldn’t believe the story, but more importantly I couldn’t believe that I had never heard the story before. Then I told some of my friends and they had never heard it either. The thought came to me that this was just such an amazing story for kids, about how this man in a box overcame this incredible obstacle of being a slave. So that was really the impetus for the Sweet Blackberry Foundation.”

Parsons said her mother continued to call her with other interesting stories. She would write them down and research them further, because she wanted to start a children’s book series. The work continued to stockpile, taking the back burner to her acting career. It wasn’t until she was pregnant with her daughter that she realized that she needed to move forward with the project to instill a strong sense of culture and heritage in her child. Parsons’ husband, who is an independent filmmaker, also encouraged her to start the project.

“I started talking to people and I found that a lot of them were really interested in what I was doing and wanted to help, and one person in particular was Queen Latifah,” Parsons said. “I had worked with her a few times before and when Will (Smith) and I were talking one day and he saw Garret’s Gift, one of our other stories. Will said that I should get Queen Latifah to do it, and we made a few calls and she did. So we’ve been very lucky in that way,” said Parsons.

Because the Sweet Blackberry Foundation is a nonprofit, it relies on donations to produce such supplemental material for children. To make a donation, order DVDs, or to find out more about the foundation, visit the website at www.sweetblackberry.org.