Mercedes Yarbrough, 33, also known as Miss Mercedes, is an educator, activist, comic book author, and proud resident of the historic Rondo neighborhood with a dream to inspire the next generation.
For Mercedes Yarbrough, the power of manifestation is everything.
“I’m really big on the power of the mind and being intentional with your thoughts and power of the words,” said Yarbrough.
Yarbrough’s unwavering faith in the power of spoken words has been a catalyst for numerous life-changing opportunities, not only for herself but also for her family. The blessings began manifesting when they officially moved to the Rondo neighborhood in 2021.
This neighborhood holds a unique significance for Yarbrough, as it has intertwined with her life story from an early age. She vividly recalls accompanying her mother on bus rides to Central High School and later attending the Martin Luther King Jr. Center and the Museum Magnet School. She ultimately graduated from St. Paul Central, just like her mother.
However, it was when Yarbrough and her family settled near Central Village Park that its true inspirational potential became evident to her. Before their arrival, the park had been largely vacant and uninviting, as Yarbrough described it.
But as the weather became nicer, Yarbrough’s fiancé, Mack, and their children started to train for football at the park, and it was during this time that Mack had a revelation.
“He would say, ‘We have to change the imagery of this park; this is our community. We live here now. It’s our job to take on that responsibility,’” Yarbrough recounted.
Yarbrough noted that when her family started to frequent the park more often, people driving by would take notice and voice their appreciation.
“That really inspired the story ‘Magic Glasses,’ which I created. It was more based on the George Floyd incident. I kind of used that narrative to really speak to the kids on how the things in your community can be negative, but you have the power to change it by putting on your Magic Glasses and envisioning something better,” said Yarbrough.
CREATING CULTURALLY RELEVANT COMIC BOOKS
With nearly a decade spent working with children in the education system, Yarbrough has acquired a wealth of knowledge in effectively understanding children’s emotions and ensuring their active engagement in learning.
“I learned a lot… and that was the main thing that I taught kids was how to control emotions, but also express what they feel and communicate their feelings,” she observed.
As a behavior specialist at the Jie Ming Chinese Immersion School, Yarbrough had the privilege of receiving guidance from principal Bobbie Johnson, who emphasized the significance of preparing students for success on a global scale. Johnson’s direction ignited Yarbrough’s determination to publish her work globally, reaching children beyond her immediate community.
“I want to reach kids globally, so I started off with Black History to get the support of my community,” said Yarbrough.
Yarbrough also credits her time teaching at Freedom School in aiding her to develop a culturally relevant curriculum for her students, which led to the creation of her first two comic books in 2022, “Black to the Future,” and “Black 2 the Future.” These books highlight the accomplishments of Black inventors and entrepreneurs from Minnesota and beyond.
“I mixed old previous history with new history. So, I like to have kids see connections to real life,” said Yarbrough.
Yarbrough not only writes comic books, but also produces short animations, as well. Among these animations are “Black Girl Magic,” “Girls Can Hoop Too,”and “Galac on Iglehart St.” These animations teach kids the importance of self-confidence and courage.
GOING BACK TO RONDO
While promoting “Black to the Future” at Central Village Park, Yarbrough was approached by Trust for Public Land, who showed interest in funding a comic series about the park.
“I already had the idea of making a Rondo comic, but now this motivated and pushed me to get it done,” said Yarbrough. “It was really just a blessing from God. And it just let me know, like, you need to do this. So I was like, yes, I’m game.”
In her creative process, Yarbrough writes the story and then collaborates with artists on the website Fiverr, which is a platform that connects people looking for freelance services. Through Fiverr, she found graphic designers that could bring her comic books to life.
In 2023, Yarbrough released the first installment of the trilogy of comic books, “Going Back to Rondo,” which dives into the history of Rondo, uncovering the origins of its name and chronicling the fate of the once-thriving Black neighborhood. The narrative sheds light on how the community was uprooted and displaced by the construction of the I-95 Interstate.
DRAWING INSPIRATION FROM ELDERS
To create the Back to Rondo comic book, Yarbrough interviewed numerous Rondo elders to help her gain more insight for the project. She describes this process as “motivating and inspiring.” She expressed appreciation for the ways that the elders paved the way for the generations after them.
“And that’s what is really sparking the fire in what I’m doing. Everything I’m doing is literally just repeating history in Rondo.”
Yarbrough draws much inspiration from the rich narratives woven within the fabric of the Rondo neighborhood. Among these stories, she shares the account of her great grandmother’s house – a symbolic haven catering to the needs of the community which served as refuge for those seeking shelter, nourishment, or even a helping hand with their hair.
She further shared the story of her neighbor, Dee Dee Ray, who had dedicated more than three decades to running a daycare in the Rondo neighborhood, created a program that enabled Hmong women, who served as translators at the daycare, to attain their degrees.
“Those are the kind of Rondo stories that I’ve been getting from the elders when I worked on this Rondo comic book that were very inspiring and just really motivating to create real change,” said Yarbrough.
BECOMING A VIRTUAL EDUCATOR
In 2020, while the world was grappling with COVID-19 and racial tension, Yarbrough noticed that kids were struggling with online learning, as well. She felt something needed to be done to make school more engaging for the kids.
“I just had this spiritual awakening that said evolution is coming with technology, and I found this as my time to create myself as a virtual educator. And that’s Ms. Mercedes. Ms. Mercedes is a virtual educator where she can go all out, like teach everybody,” said Yarbrough.
Yarbrough has many endeavors in the coming months. She’s already started working on her next project with her fiance called “Broken Robots,” which will focus on educating this generation of kids on the balance of technology and the importance of being present in the moment.
“The goal is to inspire this generation to be a broken robot and not be a robot that’s controlled by technology,” said Yarbrough.
In the future, she wants to produce a show akin to Mr. Rogers that will hopefully have a similar impact on her community.
“The way that he was impactful on a large scale, especially nationally in America, just promoting love in the neighborhood and education, that’s kind of where I see myself because I’m in my neighborhood,” said Yarbrough. “ I feel like that’s what Mr. Rogers did. He made learning fun and made you feel like you wanted to be a part of your neighborhood.”