They called her “Tar Baby,” “Blacky,” “Ugly.”
“They called me everything,” Erica Pullen recalled.
Kids will be kids, but certain names that a young Pullen were called were out of bounds, demeaning, and outright hurtful, she said.
That’s what had her waking up in the middle of the night, some 30 years later, feverishly writing a book geared to children that combats those names, those stereotypes.
“It’s the media, the social media, the videos, they have it now that you have to have a certain look,” Pullen, a Pittsburgh native, told the New Pittsburgh Courier in an exclusive interview. “Light-skinned, long hair, injections in your butt—our little girls have it bad. In order to be considered beautiful in the media, you have to have a certain look and that is not true—we come in all shapes and colors—we’re beautiful, regardless.”
The book, filled with words, pictures and illustrations, is called “Believing in Myself,” and Pullen said it’s received a good response since its release in late February. Pullen said this book is specifically for girls, with a second book to be penned at a later date geared toward boys. “Believing in Myself” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, with hard copies available at the Monroeville location.
Pullen, who was raised in Penn Hills and later graduated from Peabody High School in 1990, remembers her time in the Miss Black Teenage Pageant in 1986. She was the first runner-up. During the pageant, she wrote a monologue called “Believing in Myself.” She used much of what she wrote back then for her book now.
“This book is to motivate and encourage little girls that they can be all that they can be regardless of what area they go into life,” Pullen said. “They can reach for the stars and follow their dreams, it doesn’t matter who believes in you as long as you believe in yourself, you will go far.”
Pullen, who spent time working with the Allegheny County Housing Authority and worked with a non-profit, “One Vision One Life” alongside director Richard Garland, always had a passion to give back to African American youth.
She was part of a team of case managers who worked with youth at schools in McKees Rocks and Clairton in 2010-11. “A lot of the students lacked self-confidence and were all over the place, so my goal was to encourage and motivate them to be all that they could be,” Pullen said.
Pullen, the Carlow University and University of Phoenix graduate, left the Pittsburgh area six years ago. But she’s returning to her old stomping grounds for a book tour, April 17-20. Pullen will be at the East Hills Community Center, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., April 17; Propel School Hazelwood, from 4:30 to 6 p.m., April 18; Angel Academy, North Side, from 2:30 to 6 p.m., April 19; and Pittsburgh Miller, Hill District, from 9 a.m. to noon, April 20.
Pullen admits that in those younger days, she always struggled with confidence, “just (by being) a dark-skinned woman,” she told the Courier. But these days, Pullen’s confidence is high, and she’s working to make sure young girls’ confidence is high, as well.
“Everyone’s not going to believe in you, and that’s OK,” Pullen said. “But as long as you believe in yourself, you can reach for the stars.”
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