Bellen Woodard is an activist, a CEO, and now an author. And she’s only 11 years old.
At home on a summer morning, she recalls the incident that sparked her More Than Peach message, when she was 8 years old and third grade in Leesburg. “I noticed my classmates were calling the peach crayon the skin-colored crayon,” she says. “Everyone automatically knew that was the peach crayon. It hit me that something was wrong.”
Bellen asked her mom about it, and her mom suggested passing her friends the brown crayon the next time they asked. But Bellen had another idea. She decided she would ask them which color they wanted, since it could be an array of beautiful colors.
Her teacher and other teachers at her school started using her language, and her message began spreading to other schools in Loudoun County and beyond. Soon, Bellen’s idea transformed into her own crayon company, called More Than Peach. In the More Than Peach multicultural palette packets, all of the 12 crayons are labeled “skin color,” and they each have secondary names that come from natural landmarks, like “canyon.”
Bellen began by donating crayons to schools around her area and Children’s National Hospital, and she still donates to groups around the country and the world, using money she has made from professional modeling.
Her art brand is now available at target.com, and Bellen’s children’s book about her story, also called More Than Peach, was published by Scholastic in July. She will soon have an interactive journal coming out, and she has a third project with Scholastic in the works for 2023.
Taking the Stage
Even at her young age, Bellen exudes poise, enthusiasm, and confidence as she chats in her room. She has four older brothers who’ve been known to help her with packing up packets of crayons and drawing pads, but Bellen jokes she just “fired” one of them from taking care of her social media.
A member of Mensa, she skipped a grade after spending her early years at home with her mom, Tosha Woodard, who brought Bellen to the library, parks, museums, and play places. She says Bellen was always curious, loved exploring, and began reading at age 2. Bellen would spend hours playing independently with her mom close by, and Tosha says that was an important part of her daughter’s development. Even now, her mom stays close by, but she is clear that she wants Bellen to be able to speak about More Than Peach for herself.
This fall, Bellen starts seventh grade and brings her message to middle school. But it’s a message she’s been spreading far and wide. She’s been on the Today show and has been a TIME Kid of the Year honoree. Over the summer, she was a keynote speaker at two conferences for teachers, including one where she addressed a crowd of 10,000.
How does she do that? “It seems really easy to me,” she smiles, but admits, “I do get nervous sometimes.” She says being on stage as a dancer has helped. (She wants to be a professional ballerina and an astronaut one day.)
Bellen also got the chance to address a large group of kids as the keynote speaker for a virtual Juneteenth Girl Scouts event, which included girls from 40 countries. Many of them asked her how they can make a difference, too. Bellen’s advice? “There’s no rule book. Trust yourself if you have an idea,” she says. And if it doesn’t work, keep pushing. “If there’s something you want to change, you should be passionate. Don’t let something block you.” She also speaks about making “compassionate change,” which is what she has been doing with More Than Peach, to make everyone feel included.
Making a Difference
Through her efforts, Bellen has had the chance to talk with women including legendary Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel to space.
But her proudest achievement so far has been seeing her More Than Peach crayons in museums including the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond, the Science History Institute in Philadelphia, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC, and The Cleveland Museum of Natural History in Cleveland. Those exhibits have been a “huge motivator,” say Bellen and her mom.
Seeing the effect of her message has also been inspiring. Bellen gets lots of letters, cards, and drawings from kids — and adults — all over the world. “They’re all really nice, saying how I’ve helped them,” she says. Tosha describes one letter from an Asian man now in his 60s, who says when he was in first grade, he remembered the peach being too light for his skin color and having to use the yellow crayon. He wrote, “Thank you, Bellen, for recognizing that 6-year-old boy.” “He feels that child was seen,” says Tosha. Bellen also heard from an 86-year-old woman living in a residential facility who described coloring together with her friends there. The group now uses the mantra, “We’re more than peach, we’re each.”
So what’s next? Bellen is looking forward to bringing more people into her company to help her continue to move forward. But she’s still just a kid, going to her first concert with a friend, having sleepovers, and getting excited to get pointe shoes — the next step in her ballet trajectory.
Bellen describes More Than Peach as more of a movement than a project. “A project is over; this doesn’t end,” she says.