Last month, when Cristi Jones decided to give her 5-year-old daughter, Lola, a history lesson about female African-American icons for Black History Month, she came up with the perfect way for the inquisitive kindergartener to understand.
Since Lola loved to pull outfits from her costume box and dress up, why not pose her as a different accomplished black woman every day in February, then post the results on Facebook and Twitter?
The last thing the mom of two from Kent, Washington, expected was that the pictures would go viral, with people now hoping that she’ll turn the black-and-white photo shoot into a coffee table book or a calendar.
“I did this initially just for Lola and a few friends and family members,” Jones, 29, tells PEOPLE, “but it’s been fun to have so many other people enjoy it, too. If African-American history was taught more throughout the year, maybe we wouldn’t even need a Black History Month. But since right now we do need one, I’m happy to share.”
Jones decided to dress her daughter up as everyone from jazz singer Nina Simone to former First Lady Michelle Obama after Lola came home from school on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, wanting to know more about the fight for civil rights.
“She’d taken a genuine interest, and I wanted to take advantage of that,” she says. “We already had a box full of costumes, plenty of jewelry and an old pair of her dad’s glasses. So all I really needed to buy were a couple of wigs, a few hats and a boy’s suit jacket that I picked up at a thrift store for $2.99.”
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Recreating portraits of 29 women, including civil war hero Harriet Tubman, ballet dancer Misty Copeland and astronaut Mae Jemison, Jones snapped pictures on her iPhone and posted one each day in February, ending with Michelle Obama and Condoleezza Rice on Feb. 28.
“I decided to post two on the last day to show that the women we chose weren’t selected because of any particular political belief,” she tells PEOPLE. “I wanted to highlight that this wasn’t about my political leanings, but about my daughter learning about African-American role models.”
Lola, who hopes to become a doctor/scientist/acrobat when she grows up, was particularly proud to dress up as Rosa Parks, who refused to surrender her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.
“She said that she loved doing that one because Rosa was brave,” says Jones, “but she also enjoyed wearing an aviator’s hat to pose as pilot Bessie Coleman and a top hat for dressing up as entertainer Josephine Baker. She kept looking in the mirror and smiling. Really, every photo shoot was a fun day.”