International celebrityhood is an elusive place to end up. Many people spend their lives chasing global recognition, and fail to attain even citywide fame. So, imagine how unusual it is for a child, an 8-year-old in fact, to skyrocket to world recognition. It’s not the plot of some Disney Channel movie or a Nickelodeon after-school special. It’s the reality of Mari Copeny, who became known as “Little Miss Flint” when she beseeched then-president Barack Obama to intercede on behalf of the residents of Flint, Michigan. Her courage and eloquence have landed her a portrait doll from Lottie Dolls, and the Mari Copeny figure is an inspiration for young children everywhere.
It was early 2016; Obama was still in office; young Mari wrote to the president asking him to do something about the Water Crisis. When the town’s youngest, and most vocal advocate, got to meet President Obama, their embrace was beamed around the world. It was a hug that went viral and drew attention to the plight of contaminated water that had plagued Mari Copeny’s hometown since 2014. This first foray into speaking up and acting out was just that: a first step. Since that fateful meeting, Mari Copeny has continued to work as a voice for the often-ignored children of her town.
Never one to sit back and let events spin out of control, Mari has been the driving force behind several charitable fund-raises. Lottie Dolls reports that her altruism has, so far, raised more than a quarter of a million dollars. Some of her successful missions have included organizing a water drive to distribute essential supplies to the residents of Flint. When she turned 11 years old this year, she made sure that her birthday didn’t just honor her special day. She spearheaded a gifting drive to provide over 1,000 books and 600 bikes for the children of Flint. Mari Copeny was proving herself as a voice and force to be obeyed.
Her Twitter account has nearly 80,000 followers, and she describes herself as a “Chief Change Agent, a Cheerleader, a Future President.” She boasts (or in this case, simply speaks the truth): “Watch me change the world.” That’s what is at the base of the Lottie Doll new release for 2018. Called Kid Activist, the doll is dressed casually (denim shorts, sneakers, comfortable jacket, and campaign badges). After all, it takes a lot of walking, energy, and tireless dedication to make a difference. The doll is dressed for neighborhood canvassing and global outreach. The “Kid Activist” doll is accompanied with a bullhorn and a placard. This is a portrait of a girl who is dedicated to having her words heard and followed.
Understanding that many African-American children are often overlooked and are misunderstood, Mari Copeny speaks on their behalf. One of her wise observations: “Kids need to see themselves as superheroes. Black kids are seen as victims — and we’re not.” The notion of being responsible for one’s self, and crusading for justice, is second nature to Copeny. She wanted to spread the word of self-actualization and empowerment and launched a GoFundMe campaign so that underprivileged children and their chaperones could see a screening of the Marvel “Black Panther” superhero movie and the Oprah Winfrey vehicle “A Wrinkle in Time.” The latter movie was directed by Ava DuVernay, an African-American female director who is a rarity in the male-dominated Hollywood landscape.
Mari Copeny has reached many milestones in her very short life. Not yet a teen, she is a philanthropist and an activist to be taken seriously. She is bright enough to recognize that kids’ needs are both physical and spiritual. Her #DearFlintKids campaign invited people the world over to write to a child in Flint and tell that kid that he or she is cared for and cared about. It was a way to make the boundaries of the world seem a little more negotiable and relatable.
Mari also has partnered with Pack Your Bag, an organization that provides backpacks full of school supplies for more than 1,000 students. They also co-hosted a summer party, because a child’s life has to have moments of fun, escapism, and joy.
The Lottie Doll company, located in Ireland, has honored other real-life children in the past. Mari Copeny is the third of their reality-based doll characters. She follows 2014’s Allie Weber, who was the model for their Robot Girl Lottie doll, and 2016’s Taylor Richardson, who was their Stargazer Lottie. These three girls are part of “Teen Vogue” magazine’s lauded #21Under21 power list.
According to Ian Harkin, co-founder of Lottie Dolls, the up-and-coming generation of young girls is a tidal wave of strength, courage, confidence, and compassion. He is enamored of their possibilities. “We continue to be blown away by the next generation of young people,” Harkin said. “Their can-do attitude gives them the ability to be change-makers on a global scale.”
Their new Kid Activist Lottie doll mirrors Harkin’s high expectations. It represents a doll that is willing and able to steer the future in her own image. Interestingly enough, American royal Meghan Markle, the bride of Prince Harry, was a child activist as well. Lottie Dolls chronicled Meghan’s influential letter-writing and petition campaign during her nuptials. (A young Meghan took on the TV-advertising concept that only women did dirty dishes and worried about liquid detergent!)
“With our toys, we want to encourage all kids — regardless of gender, ability, or ethnicity — to follow all their dreams,” Harkin has observed. “We can’t wait to meet the next generation of scientists and activists, environmentalists and artists, sportspeople and teachers. From where we’re sitting, the future feels pretty bright!” The Mari Copeny Kid Activist doll from Lottie Dolls is another stepping-stone toward ensuring that all children are part of a modern-day toy box, toy store, and toy industry.