Sonya Bernard-Hollins once produced a coloring book about prominent Black graduates of Kalamazoo Public Schools, among them former Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Now she’s at it again—this time she’s created a coloring book of firsts of Kalamazoo African-American women and a similar coloring book of firsts about local African-American men. And she’s involved her all-girls Merze Tate Explorers travel and community-service group in the project.
“We use our organization to not only teach girls about history but to allow them to teach their next generation as well,” Bernard-Hollins says in an interview that aired today on WMUK 102.1 FM, as a part of a monthlong series featuring local citizens making a difference. The girls have made mini-documentaries about the women in her new "Your Turn!" coloring book series.
Bernard-Hollins, a Kalamazoo native, and her graphic-designer husband, Sean, own Season Press Publishing. They both earned Community Arts Awards from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo in 2020. Sean won the Business Arts Award; Sonya won the Gayle Hoogstraten Arts Leadership Award for Arts Education.
Sonya Bernard-Hollins graduated in 1993 from Western Michigan University with a degree in English and journalism. She named her Merze Tate Explorers travel club after a fellow alumna, Merze Tate, who, in 1927, became the first African-American to earn a bachelor’s degree from WMU. The group's members, who are in fourth through 12th grades, are exposed to careers and the world through traveling, meeting trailblazing women and doing multi-media projects.
Tate spoke five languages. She was a world traveler and high-school and college educator in history. Tate would expand her students’ world view by taking them on trips. Bernard-Hollins has authored a children's book about this accomplished woman. She also developed a traveling exhibit about Tate. It debuted at the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame in 2011.
Bernard-Hollins founded the Merze Tate Explorers in 2008. Her girls have visited France, Japan, Canada, Italy, Hawaii and many other places. Every year, they publish a magazine detailing their journeys and interviews with high-profile career women. They also chronicle their projects on their YouTube channel.
For more about Merze Tate, check out this just released WMU News Service article. For more about Sonya Bernard-Hollins, watch an interview with her at 7 pm Friday, Feb. 26 on the city of Portage's website.