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Travel Club Returns To Pick Up New Generation


In 1932, Merze Tate, a woman from rural Michigan, was the first African-American to graduate from Oxford University. She developed what became known as a children's travel club. Today, another Michigan woman is reviving that concept to inspire girls to stay in school. Michigan Radio's Kyle Norris has the story.

KYLE NORRIS: About 20 girls and several adults shuffle onto an Amtrak train in Kalamazoo.

Ms. CLAIRE KHABEIRY (Member, Merze Tate Travel Club): We're going on a mystery train ride with the travel club.

NORRIS: Thats 10-year-old club member Claire Khabeiry. Like a lot of kids in this group, she's never been on a train before. On today's mystery trip, they're traveling just one stop over, to Battle Creek, where they'll visit several monuments for the Underground Railroad and Sojourner Truth's burial place.

Club founder Sonya Hollins floats down the aisle, chatting with the girls in their seats.

Ms. SONYA HOLLINS (Founder, Merze Tate Travel Club): I'm telling you, when you get back on this train, you're going to be a whole new person. You're going to be like a historian about Battle Creek history.

Unidentified Man: Attention, ladies and gentlemen, this station stop is Battle Creek. Battle Creek.

NORRIS: Hollins started the travel club two years ago, somewhat unintentionally. She was flipping through the paper and an article caught her eye - about how to keep kids in school. The idea of Merze Tate's travel club from the 1930s had always stuck with her, and Hollins realized that reviving that travel club idea would be a great way to get kids excited about the world around them.

Ms. HOLLINS: And to expose them to some careers and some people who have traveled - and it would open their mind to the possibilities out there.

NORRIS: So Hollins created the Merze Tate travel club.

Originally, the club was for African-American girls. But since that time, Hollins has opened it up to girls of all races. The club has done everything from touring the state capital to learning how to make and can applesauce.

On one trip, the girls visited Kalamazoo College. Hollins quizzed the girls just to see if they knew anything about the school's president, a black woman.

Ms. HOLLINS: I think a couple of them guessed that she was African-American. None of them guessed that it was a woman. And so afterwards, when I introduced her, you could just see their eyes light up - like wow, she's the president of this college.

NORRIS: Ten-year-old member Zoe Emones thinks all kids should have this kind of experience.

Ms. ZOE EMONES (Member, Merze Tate Travel Club): So that they can learn more about their community and their state and country.

NORRIS: But couldn't they just do that from a TV show, though?

Ms. EMONES: No, they couldn't.

NORRIS: Emones says that traveling to places feels better than TV. She says it feels more real.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Norris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kyle Norris
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