“I’m in a really unique position as a white woman with a Black kid to help people understand why representation matters,” Niki Coffman tells TODAY.com.
When 5-year-old Archer “Archie” Coffman walks down a toy aisle, he rarely sees himself reflected in the rows of figurines.
“When there aren’t toys like him, he asks why,” Niki Coffman, Archer’s mom, tells TODAY.com. “He notices.”
When asked what it feels like to not see toys that look like him, Archer says it feels “not good.”
“Everyone should have that,” the little boy tells TODAY.com. “It makes them happy.”
“I opened the box and started crying,” Niki Coffman, who lives in Mississippi, says. “Archer asked why. I said: ‘Archer, they made you.’ His little jaw dropped.
“He snatched the box out of my hands…whipped around and shouted: ‘It’s me! It’s me!'” she adds. “He showed everyone. He didn’t put (the toy) down all day.”
‘It’s a complicated, huge responsibility’
Niki Coffman, 38, and her husband Andrew adopted Archer shortly after he was born.
“I couldn’t have a baby,” Coffman says. “I had surgery a couple of times and I was not interested in walking down the road of intense medical interventions.”
The couple matched with Archer’s birth mother, KKay, who the family calls Archer’s first mom because “she did so much more than give birth to him.”
“She wasn’t in a great spot and didn’t have a lot of support, but she’s an amazing mom,” Niki says. “There are few moments as devastating to me in my life as the moment she put him in our arms. It was so clear what it was costing her for our dreams to come true.
“She kissed his tiny little face and was whispering ‘I’m sorry’ over and over again,” Niki adds. “I’ll never forget it.”
Niki says Archer’s first mom is an integral part of his life, adding that they often visit her. As his second mom, Niki says she always works to honor KKay in how she parents their son.
“She is the only other person in the whole world who knows what it’s like to be his mom,” she says. ‘That’s a duty I take really seriously.”
“When someone makes that sacrifice for your dreams to come true, you do everything you can to live up to that choice,” she adds. “And it’s a complicated, huge responsibility when you’re a white parent adopting a child of another race.
“We knew that going in, and I knew how important it would be for us to make sure that he could see himself.”
‘It’s hard to describe how impactful it feels’
For five years, Niki has searched for toys, books and holiday decorations that look more like her son.
When a company succeeds in providing diverse toys and products, she contacts them to say thank you. When a company fails, she sends a letter politely asking them to “do better.”
On Archer’s fifth birthday, Niki decided to ask people to donate diverse and inclusive toys, books and art supplies to Archer’s predominately white preschool.
Many of the donations were Fisher-Price’s Little People — figurines featuring children with different skin tones, hair textures and physical abilities.
“What is hard to find is a toy with brown skin and red hair,” Niki says. “So I wrote to Fisher Price, thanked them profusely for the work they were doing and then left a P.S. that said something like: ‘If you ever decided to design a Little Person with brown skin and red hair, please let us know.'”
Shortly after, Niki received a response from Gary Weber, the Vice President of Design at Fisher-Price.
“Your story has been shared with everyone who worked on the Little People figures you mentioned, and to say that it made our day would be an understatement,” Weber wrote. “You and Archer have inspired us! We know that when kids play with Little People they are playing out scenarios they see in the world around them, and feeling like they are a part of that world is critical.”
The email ended with Weber asking for the family’s address so Fisher-Price could “make sure Archer and his school have the full representation of our Little People figures.”
On Tuesday, May 23, Niki Coffman received a special box from Fisher Price.
“There was a letter on top from The Little People team — a beautifully printed, framable letter and everyone in their department had signed it,” Niki says. “Inside the box were perfectly packaged boxes that had a little Archer figure in it. They got the whole outfit perfect — the sweater, the green shorts, his little loafers. They got his hair perfect.
“The amount of work and effort and care they put in to this toy was astounding,” she adds. “The thing that just keeps blowing my mind is the number of people who obviously worked on this…it’s hard to describe how impactful it feels, to think of people I don’t know in boardrooms somewhere looking at a picture of my kid and thinking: ‘What else can we do?’ Because as a mom I think about that every day: How else can I smooth the path for him?”
A spokesperson for Fisher-Price tells TODAY.com that Niki’s email was shared “throughout the company and it genuinely touched all of us.”
“We felt such a sense of pride knowing how we had impacted this one family,” the spokesperson says. “How could anyone not be inspired by both Niki’s letter and that beautiful photo of Archer? It means everything to us. That feeling of joy and excitement we see on every child’s face when interacting or playing with one of our toys is the reason we do what we do.”
An employee at Fisher-Price also reached out to Niki via Instagram personally.
“They wrote me to say: ‘I have a Little Archer on my desk,” she says. “They literally ordered one for each of their staff.”
“This was a complete team effort across Fisher Price,” the Fisher-Price spokesperson says.
“Gary Weber and the leader of the design team, Dafna Mor, led the charge to make sure that Archer had his very own LP figure. They worked hand-in-hand with the entire LP team to perfect Archer’s figure — from his hair to his shirt and his smiling face.”
‘Not seeing color doesn’t help’
Niki says Archer’s Little People figurine is so much more than a toy — it’s a reminder that representation matters.
“I worry about things I can’t control — I worry about him getting killed by police or people viewing him as an adult,” she says, adding that Archer is “big for his age.”
“I can’t control any of that, but what I can do right now is to make sure that the spaces he’s in right now help him know how incredible he is; that his school takes the time to understand that he has brown skin and that not seeing color doesn’t help.
“I need them to have toys and and books that look like Archer, because that’s how they understand that brown skin isn’t less than,” she continues. “And I’m in a really unique position as a white woman with a Black kid to help people understand why representation matters. Black parents are tired and they already know it’s important.”
Archer has continued to donate Little People toys “with brown skin like me,” to his pre-school, for his friends to enjoy.
“I got an Archie Army,” he says.