At first I was hurt, then angry, then just disappointed. The women's snide remark shocked my 8th grade student during our annual fundraiser to study abroad. "I work every day and I haven't been to Europe," she said. The woman admitted she gave to organizations that "helped" people, not for girls to travel. After she left our gift-wrapping booth, I explained to the girls that comments like those keep me motivated to do what I started 11 years ago; to provide opportunities for girls to see their full potential and use it to give back to their community and world.
As the founder of the Merze Tate Explorers, girls serve as travel writers on journeys to meet phenomenal women in fields from entertainment to corporate industry. Girls in grades 4th-12th have interviewed those such as Ruth Carter, first African American to win an Oscar in Costume Design for the movie, "Black Panther." They have interviewed Mae Jemison, first African American female astronaut. The Explorers have interviewed Margot Lee Shetterly, author who uncovered the amazing story of the women in the book, "Hidden Figures," and many others with the goal of planting seeds in them that will sprout into fulfilled dreams...dreams our organization helps to water through opportunities these inner-city girls may otherwise have never had a chance to experience.
It was more than 11 years ago that I learned of a woman named Merze Tate who had since passed away. But, her legacy of being an African American woman who traveled the world twice, was a Fulbright Scholar in India, wrote books on international politics, was a history professor at Howard University, the first African American graduate of Oxford University, and on, and on...astounded me. Even more interesting was that upon her graduating top of her class at Western Michigan University in 1927, Jim Crow laws prevented her from teaching high school in her own state. This led her to move to Indianapolis, Indiana to teach history at segregated high school. It was there she started a Travel Club and soon sponsored trips to Washington D.C., Pennsylvania, and Niagara Falls for nearly 40 students at a time!
One of the articles in her scrapbook near the photo of her Travel Club stated, "Should Colored Kids Travel?" The white-owned newspaper doubted the children of maids and chauffeurs could behave properly on such a journey let alone benefit from it in their futures. Well, because of Tate, many of those students went on to become Tuskegee Airmen, doctors, teachers, and world travelers! For years these girls and their parents assumed the Explorers' organization was my job. They felt I received a paycheck for what was more than a full-time job. But, I have never received a paycheck. I am not a millionaire or wife of one. I have taken girls around the world, exposed them to college life, taught them media skills that would help in any career path they choose, but my family and I live in a small apartment with not much savings. However, God has opened the hearts of people in the community who know me as a journalist and community volunteer to provide opportunities for these girls that still baffle my mind.
Today, Explorer alumna also have been Fulbright Scholars, teachers, photographers, leaders of nonprofit organizations, and yes, world travelers. I shutter to think what our world would be like if girls didn't have strong women in their lives who saw beyond their own limitations to provide fuel their fire to be all that God has created them to become. Despite many naysayers, our Explorers have traveled to Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and aspire to visit all seven continents together. They don't have to wait until they are retired or rich to travel the world. Their experiences in other countries bring history to life. Their experiences allow them to go back to their families, schools, and communities to share what they know about Hiroshima, Pearl Harbor, the annexation of Hawaii, and other issues some only learn from a U.S. history book.
In the meantime, they still become amazing women who will be the shoulders the next generation will climb upon. Should Colored Kids Travel? Why not? Why not allow them the opportunity to see their place in this world and learn that they have so much to learn...and to offer. Why not allow them to realize careers in the international arena, careers that solve international crisis, that create better global understanding?
That's why I do what I do for girls!