Skip to content

Meet Mizz Mercedez, the Minnesota Educator Making Learning Fun Through Comics

by Katey DeCelle and Lydia Moran

A close up of a person holding a comic book. In the right half of the frame is a graphic of colorful comic book covers in two rows.
Mercedes Yarbrough and a few of her comic book covers.

Mercedes Yarbrough (AKA Mizz Mercedez) creates culturally relevant comics to help kids of color see their history through a positive lens.

During the height of social distancing, Mercedes Yarbrough was starting a new job as an intervention specialist at a St. Paul, Minnesota elementary school and striving to form connections with her students — whom she’d never met in person — over the computer screen. 

When Black History Month rolled around, her school asked Mercedes to create a lesson plan. Fed up with the often negative or partial portrayal of Black history she observed in standard curriculum, Mercedes decided to create a series on the history of Black hair with a focus on how people used cornrows to hide seeds and information while resisting slavery.

“It ended up going viral in a sense within St. Paul Public Schools because other schools [asked to use it] and they loved it,” Mercedes said. “That really inspired me because I’m like, ‘You know what, I’m about to start making learning fun.’”

Since then, Mercedes has created a series of vibrant, culturally relevant comic books and animated videos “that empower kids of color through their history, through a positive lens.”

Mercedes distributes the self-published works at community events and they can also be found on her website and at an independent bookshop

Her social media and real life persona — “Mizz Mercedez” — has become a pillar of the Rondo Neighborhood she calls home. Her tagline is #YoKidzFavoriteTeacher.

Photo Credit: Katharine DeCelle
Mizz Mercedez

The slogan “was about giving flowers and acknowledging those educators that are in the building, but are not the licensed teachers,” Mercedes explained. 

As an unlicensed educator, Mercedes said she felt like her ideas weren’t given credence within the education system. “But at all the schools I worked at, the kids’ favorite teacher was not the licensed teacher — it was the specialists, the TA, the lunch lady, the security guard — whoever is giving the child love.”

Though she’s no longer working full-time at a school, Mercedes’ curriculum based on the stories and characters in her comics and animations have been used by local summer and after school programs and the St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation. Her first project, “Black to the Future,” highlights Black inventors, from Madame C.J. Walker to Thomas J. Martin, and its accompanying curriculum encourages students to tap into their own ingenuity.  

“The education system is killing a lot of our kids’ dreams, and I believe that if you’re not dreaming, you’re not living. We’re trying to inspire people to dream and dream big.”

Mercedes is deeply invested in her Rondo community, a neighborhood at the heart of St. Paul’s Black community that was partially demolished with the construction of a freeway in the late 1950s. She grew up in the area, but said the community feels different, and less connected, than she remembers it. 

“Rondo is us; it’s not just the freeway, or the once thriving Black community. Now we’re culturally diverse, and that’s what the comic is really going to show and embrace.”

Mercedes Yarbrough
A book cover with people floating around a green glowing line. There is also a map, calendar, old photographs, and train ticket.
Photo Credit: Katharine DeCelle
The cover of Mercedes’ “Going Back to Rondo” book.

Her latest series of comics, a trilogy, is based on the history of Rondo dating back to 1846. In the final installment, yet unreleased, she explores the Rondo of today through Mercedes’ own real life efforts to revive one of the two parks in the community into a destination where kids of all backgrounds play.

“Rondo is now very culturally diverse [but] a lot of times people are segregated,” Mercedes said. “I want to unify everyone. Rondo is us; it’s not just the freeway, or the once thriving Black community. Now we’re culturally diverse, and that’s what the comic is really going to show and embrace.”

But Mercedes’ work is far from over. Ultimately, she dreams to create a new virtual kids platform to meet them where they’re at online. A combination of “Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street, and Reading Rainbow all put together — a safe space,” she said.