The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star discussed how her books and animated films are narrating the stories of Henry Box Brown and Garrett Morgan this week on the third hour of ABC’s Good Morning America.
Henry Box Brown was an enslaved man in 1848 when he mailed himself to freedom from slaveholding Virginia to the free city of Philadelphia in a box.
“I was so fascinated by this story, and also by the fact that I’ve never heard of it and my friends hadn’t heard it,” Karyn tells Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes on GMA3: What You Need To Know. “I really wanted to bring this story and others that I started to discover, which my mom brought to me as well, to kids. And I wanted it to do it in the form of books and animated films. So, that’s how Sweet Blackberry started.”
The Journey of Henry Box Brown is narrated in verse by Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee Alfre Woodard. The story was Sweet Blackberry’s first animated film in 2005.
The daughter of a librarian, Karyn also shared the story of Garrett Morgan, the inventor of what would become the traffic light. Though Morgan is one of the icons named during Black History Month, his full story of being a businessman and inventor during the early 20th century is rarely recognized, Karyn says.
“The traffic signal that we know today: the light…, not the color, but the actual mechanism, that’s all Garrett Morgan,” she says. “We live with that today, and we take it for granted and never think it was a Black man who did it.”
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Saving the Day: Garrett Morgan’s Life-Changing Invention of the Traffic Signal came out in December as a hardcover picture book for kids between the ages of four and eight. The book, also told in verse, is written by Karyn and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie.
The story is the basis of the second film from Sweet Blackberry called Garrett’s Gift, narrated by actress and recording artist Queen Latifah.
Karyn’s late Fresh Prince costar James Avery, who played her character Hilary Bank’s father Philip Banks, loved sharing lesser-known Black history stories, Karyn says, calling him a “historian” in his own right.
“It didn’t really occur to me though until just recently how much he had an impact on me, on my bringing these stories to kids,” she says in the ABC interview. “A lot of that came from James.”
Founded in 2005, Sweet Blackberry creates visual content and publishes books with a mission to “bring little known stories of African American achievement to children everywhere.” The organization provides virtual school sessions with DVD viewings, interactive discussions with Karyn, hands-on projects, and guides for teachers to support the telling of the stories.
The organization, along with Little, Brown, published Flying Free: How Bessie Coleman’s Dreams Took Flight about the famous Black female aviator in December 2020.