Stories of Service


By: Ellie Bullard


This former tutor is bringing comics about Black history to MN classrooms

Mercedes’ passion for helping kids learn ignited more than a decade ago when she became a Reading Corps tutor. Today, education is her life and her purpose. She has been an intervention specialist in St. Paul Public Schools, a servant leader intern in the district’s Freedom School program, an author, a game designer of educational media, and much more. She wrote three comic books about Black history – Black to the Future, Black 2 the Future, and Going Back to Rondo. Check out her work at

What led you to become a tutor with Reading Corps?

I was working jobs to survive, pay the bills, care for my child, and make ends meet. My mom found out about Reading Corps and told me it might help me pay off my student loans.

My son was going into pre-K, so I signed up for the pre-K Reading Corps program [now Early Learning Corps] and was able to bring him with me. The school I served at was also right across from where my mom worked. It was really fun to have that experience. To my surprise, I loved being a tutor. I felt like I had purpose.

What was it like to serve with AmeriCorps and also be a parent?

Being able to do service and have my son there was really meaningful to me. Watching him grow and learn – I saw, oh wow, this really works. Seeing things from a teacher’s lens prepared me to be a mom, too.

What are some of your favorite memories of serving?

I loved the trainings that prepared me, teaching alliteration and rhyming and different word cards. By the end of the year, I was amazed — one little girl who didn’t know what a duck was when we started knew all 26 letter sounds by the end. Seeing the kids’ progress was an amazing feeling — like, wow, I was influential in their learning experience and I helped them grow!

Seeing these little four-year-olds really look up to me, it just really warmed my heart. It sparked something inside of me – I felt like I was dreaming again. I learned a lot of great things and really started to get confident about helping kids learn. That opened the door to being hired at the school the following year.

How did tutoring help prepare you to move into a role at the school?

I was hired as a teacher’s assistant (TA) in special education, assisting the classroom teacher doing behavior management. Many of my students were in foster care, or their parents had passed away or were incarcerated; unfortunate things were happening to them in their home life. Because a lot of the kids were behind academically, knowing how to tutor and work one-on-one with them was really valuable.

When you’re tutoring, you’re giving that student your undivided attention in one-on-one time, and you’re building a relationship. “How was your weekend? What did you do today? How’s school going?” Just little talk that really opens the door. And then once you have that relationship, that’s when the learning really blossoms.

You’re not able to teach anyone without building that relationship. In any school setting, it’s the person who has the relationship with the kid who is going to make the difference, and it’s not the job title.

You’ve created a Black history comic book series, educational video series, and other learning tools. How did you get the idea to create some of these materials?

I did Freedom Schools with St. Paul Public Schools and did a two-week training in Tennessee. Their mentoring and seminars were amazing. That’s where I started to really get creative – one year I decorated my room with Minions, another with Ninja Turtles.

When I was growing up, a lot of times I would be one of the only brown girls in the class. During Black History Month, all eyes would be on me. But in Freedom School, you learn more Black history, other things than just slavery. Black people are inventors, we’ve created a lot of things. I wondered, what if we start teaching Black history from a positive lens, and it’s going to make our kids feel good at school?

Was there a connection between your tutoring and beginning to create the comic books and other materials?

I think just knowing and understanding the importance of reading. In my next comic book, I’ll be working with alliteration, and that’s something that we focused a lot on in pre-K — alliteration and rhyming concepts.

One reason why I made the comic books was because our kids, especially Black and brown kids, aren’t picking up a book to read. Whenever it was reading time, many of them were reading off the iPad. They were having it read to them, so they’re not reading, they’re just listening. I was like, I need to make something that is not on my iPad, so they have to pick it up. I knew this generation is into graphic novels, anime, so I was like, okay, let’s meet them where they are.

Our job as educators is to inspire. I want to teach things that inspire kids to use their imagination and creativity and just get their brains moving.

What would you say about serving in AmeriCorps to someone who has an interest but isn’t sure they want to serve?

I would say if you’re looking for a purpose in life — if you just feel like you’re lost, or don’t feel like you have any purpose — I highly recommend that you sign up. A lot of people don’t realize how meaningful serving and giving back is, especially to youth. Seeing the growth and knowing that you had a part of that will make you feel good. You did something, you were beneficial, you had purpose, and you made a difference.

Interested in serving with AmeriCorps? Check out Reading Corps, Early Learning Corps, and our other programs. If you’ve got questions, reach out to our recruitment team.

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