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Cass Tech student designs bench for unique way to connect during COVID

'The reflection section is a multi-faceted bench where you can connect to others in a safe way.'
Posted at 9:05 AM, Apr 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-26 10:57:55-04

DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) — We want to shine the light on three generations of women making their mark individually in Detroit.

First a late grandmother who became a motivational speaker her daughter who founded an organization to help build self-esteem of African American girls and finally a granddaughter using art to help bring peace to the community during the pandemic.

This is the late Patricia Harris Johnson, a beloved Detroit Public Schools counselor. She not only attended the school for hair care founded by the first Black female millionaire Madam CJ Walker she also launched a business and became a motivational speaker.

“I would get so many people that would come up to me and tell me how much she impacted their life,” said daughter Sheri Crawley.

That legacy passed on to her daughter Sheri Crawley.

“It really caused me to ask myself what would people tell my daughter about their mother,” said Crawley.

Sheri, a mother of two daughters who grew up in Detroit, found they were struggling with their identity in their suburban school. Then she got an idea after a birthday party at a doll store and every little girl picked a white doll.

“I reached for the only Black doll that was even an option and she was a slave,” said Crawley.

That was 2010. That same year Sheri says CNN's Anderson Cooper reenacted the1942 test about skin tone bias. It struck a nerve in her and so did the way her husband greeted his daughters.

“I could hear him wake them up in the morning with the affirmation, ‘good morning my pretty brown girl,’” said Crawley.

With that came the founding of "Pretty Brown Girl", the mission to encourage girls to celebrate shades of brown all over the world. Twelve years later, it's now a national organization with a k-12 after school program.

Now a third generation is embarking on her own mission. 15-year-old Aliya Crawley, a sophomore at Cass Tech, was recently one of 12 finalists in an art contest during COVID.

“The mission was to create something that connects people together during a time where physical togetherness is not possible,” said Aliya Crawley.

She wanted to help others struggling with isolation and loneliness during the pandemic. She sketched her idea on paper then a digital sketch and finally this 3D model of what she calls the "reflection section."

“One person can sit here, and one person would sit here, and they would be able to see their reflection in the mirror,” Aliya explained.

“There are two opposite facing benches where you can look in a mirror and you can not only see yourself but the person sitting across from you. She wants to add in music and meditation.

She had to make a presentation at the College of Creative studies in front of judges and a packed room, and she won.

“She rocked it,” said proud mom Crawley.

“There was an executive from Rocket Mortgage that was also on the panel who came to us afterward and said we have tons of open space in Detroit,” said Crawley.

“What did you say to people to sell them on your idea?” asked WXYZ’s Carolyn Clifford.

“I would say the reflection section is a multi-faceted bench where you can connect to others in a safe way,” said Aliya.

Now she is hoping the next step will be a company that believes in her idea and will help with funding for materials, labor and distribution.

“I would love to see the reflection section in almost any open space, a park, a campus, some place where people can connect and find peace,” said Aliya.

A peace that comes from the strength instilled in her from both her grandmother and mother and now.

“What do you think about your legacy?” asked Clifford.

“I came from all these great women and it's like a push to be a great woman myself,” said Aliya.

The next step for Aliya is to find a company that would help her with the materials and labor cost to bring her reflection section into reality with a prototype of her bench.

Thankfully, she connected with two designers at Donut Shop that helped make her idea a reality. Ian Klipa and Jake Saphier stepped up and made her first Reflection Bench. A dream come true for Aliya.