Bellen Woodard is just 9-year-old, but that has not gotten in the way of her starting her own project that has reached kids of all colors, around the globe.
Bellen recently launched her “More than Peach,” project, where she creates art kits that have packs of Crayola’s Multicultural crayons — reminding everyone that the peach crayon is not the only “skin-color” option, according to The Washington Post.
“I felt it should also be in other schools because everyone else should know that there is more than one skin color,” Bellen shared with the outlet about why she started her project.
Bellen was inspired for “More than Peach” after a personal encounter with her third-grade classmates at school in Loudoun County, Virginia.
“My friends were asking for the ‘skin-color’ crayon,” she recalled, noting she understood they meant the peach crayon, a color that was not her own skin-tone.
That very same day Bellen came home to her mother, Tosha Woodward, and explained what had happened. According to her mother, it was not the first incident.
“Bellen says that hearing peach referred to as the skin color always made her feel ‘weird,’” Woodard tells PEOPLE. “When I learned of it — when she came home after hearing it yet again in school that day — my immediate feeling was of the need to protect and empower my daughter.”
Woodward offered that the next time it happened, Bellen hand over the brown crayon instead of the peach one. But the then-8-year-old who is the only black girl in her grade had a better idea.
“[She said,] ‘No, I’m going to ask them which color they want because it could be any number of beautiful colors,” Woodard recalls, adding how she was speechless at her daughter’s response.
“It was Bellen’s response that very literally left me without words as chills washed over me,” the mother of five revealed. “I knew in that moment that her response was exactly the way to approach her dilemma and simply said to her, ‘That’s perfect.’”
So the very next day, Bellen went to school and when her classmates asked for the “skin-color” crayon, her response not only shifted her fellow classmates’, but also her teacher’s, way of thinking.
“What was most inspiring to her was seeing how her words led her teacher to begin using her same words in response to the ‘skin-color’ crayon request and before long, an entire class had abandoned the language,” Woodard went on to share with PEOPLE.
Discovering just how much of an impact she had, Bellen decided to help other students like her across the country through an art kit project.
“Bellen used Crayola’s Multicultural crayons in an earlier grade but didn’t think much of the lone box other than that they were just another box of crayons,” Woodard says. “But after feeling [dis-included] and seeing the change that her words had inspired in her own school, she wanted to share something that would both inspire creativity and celebrate individuality.”
The project, “More than Peach,” as Bellen named it, is a special art kit that includes a sketchbook, a personalized postcard, a box of crayons or colored pencils and a box of Crayola’s Multicultural crayons or colored pencils.
The box also includes apricot, burnt sienna, mahogany, sepia as well as tan-colored crayons.
To help fund the project, Bellen used $200 she had saved from modeling children’s clothes for Target and also held a fundraising drive at her school, according to The Washington Post.
Currently, her goal is to send the $5 kits to every preschool as well as elementary school students in Loudoun County, along with all the local middle school art classes, according to her website.
Woodward shares how since last spring, Bellen’s project has taken off and turned into a movement.
While Bellen has not only received donations from people around the world, she has also been granted proclamations from the Leesburg mayor and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, received invitations to speak in front of her school board and to be honored by a state delegate on the House floor, and will soon have one of her kits added to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.