The Bernette Ford Fund

We are proud to announce the Bernette Ford Fund at the Highlights Foundation. This fund celebrates Bernette for her pioneering work in children’s publishing and was established to honor and support Black women in children’s publishing.

With a career that spanned nearly 40 years as an author, editor, and publisher, Bernette worked tirelessly to serve the children’s publishing industry. Bernette served on faculty at the Highlights Foundation for a number of years during the Highlights Foundation Writers Conferences at Chautuauqua, and on faculty at the the Highlights Foundation retreat center.

Read Bernette’s obiturary write-up in Publishers Weekly to learn more about her incredible impact.

Learn more about how the Highlights Foundation supports Black creatives and professtionals in the children’s publishing industry.

“[It] seemed possible because of Bernette Ford. She created space for people like me. Not just on the page, but behind the scenes and in the creation of the stories. And now I am doing just that because Bernette Ford made it possible.” (Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich)

The Bernette Ford Fund to Honor Black Women in Publishing, feature a photo of Bernette and the Highlights Foundaiton logo

Bernette was an accomplished author, editor, and publishing executive. Here are just a few of the titles she wrote and/or edited:

Book cover: Wild Wild Hair
Book cover: Bright Eyes, Brown Skin
Book cover: Uncle John's City Garden

My first encounter with Bernette Ford’s work was life changing. As a college freshman, I worked with a literacy program where part of my job involved visiting homes in Harlem and Washington Heights, knocking on doors like “Hi, I’m a stranger, here to read to your children and talk about nutrition!”  The other students and I were given a large box of books, and we dug in ready to change the world. I loved to perform and read aloud and wanted to share the joy. But as we went through the books, some were OK, some seemed like punishment, and most did not represent the vibrant black and brown community we were there to serve. But there were two books that we almost tore apart in our eagerness to use, and one of them was BRIGHT EYES, BROWN SKIN by Cheryl Willis Hudson and Bernette Ford. The impact of that sweet lyrical story was a powerful one. Yeah, the families were cool with most of the books that I brought, but that one made children’s eyes shine with the joy of recognition, the gratitude of being seen, and knowing that their daily lives were valued. … They had memorized it. They would point to their own perfect noses while they said the words aloud. It did more than teach reading. It nourished the built community and transformed us all. …I dreamed of one day writing for very young children and it seemed like a long shot because I’m a long-winded writer. But it also seemed possible because of Bernette Ford. She created space for people like me. Not just on the page, but behind the scenes and in the creation of the stories. And now I am doing just that because Bernette Ford made it possible.

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

I had the good fortune to meet Bernette Ford when I was just starting in children’s books. With my first book assignment, I’d contacted the legendary illustrator Tom Feelings out of the blue because I knew someone who knew someone who knew him, and Tom had generously walked me through the process of putting a book together. Through Tom, I learned about the group Black Creators for Children. I’d been offered a second manuscript with an interesting story, but so full of negative stereotypes that it was impossible to accept it as it was.  So it was a relief to find a group that was trying to develop criteria for what would constitute healthy, positive, realistic representations of people of color in picture books. That was where I met Bernette… Over the years, I came to know Bernette as both a gifted writer and a brilliant editor. And [she] was someone who really put all of her strong beliefs into action. If you’ve ever had the honor of meeting Bernette Ford, then you know, as I do, what we’ve all lost: her warmth, her wisdom, her humor, and the keen eye that even way back then, steered so many writers and illustrators to do their very best work and to always keep their eyes on the prize. We miss your Bernette.  

Pat Cummings

Pat Cummings

I came into this business in 1977, a time when there were barely any Black editors, let alone black executives, in publishing. I knew Toni Morrison, who was editing adult books at Random House, and there were a handful of assistant editors or readers I was aware of. I was also aware of at least one Black literary agent, but that was about the extent of it. It would be years before I met a Black woman in the business who was in a position to write her own ticket, and that woman was Bernette Ford.  The mere fact of her existence excited me. Bernette was all about reclaiming the identity of Black people as portrayed in books, specifically books for young readers. Our goals most definitely aligned and when she approached me about writing for Cartwheel Books and later for Color-Bridge Books, the only word I had for her was yes, it was never even a question… She was kind, warm, encouraging and soft spoken. But she was also smart and savvy and always knew what she wanted in the books she chose to shepherd.  Bernette was a gifted editor, as we all know, and a consummate professional with an eye for talent. It’s no surprise to me that the books she published and sent out into the world were well received and then some. My book WILD, WILD HAIR, illustrated by her equally gifted husband George Ford and published in 1997, sold more than a quarter of a million copies, proving what Bernette knew all along: Black books can sell if they are the right books and if they have the right person at the helm. Bernette, you will always be the right person. You were way ahead of the curve. 

Nikki Grimes

Nikki Grimes

A tribute to Bernette Ford, coordinated by friends and colleagues.

Children’s publishing pioneers George Ford (artist and the first winner of the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration) and Bernette Ford (author, editor and former publishing executive) talk to Wade and Cheryl Hudson about early advocacy for diversity in children’s literature; developing criteria for writing and illustrating books about Black children; the creative process of publishing; and what progress in the industry looks like for them.

To donate by check, make a check payable to: The Highlights Foundation, and send it to: The Highlights Foundation, 814 Court Street, Honesdale, PA 18431.  You can reference the name of the scholarship fund in the memo line.

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The Highlights Foundation positively impacts children by amplifying the voices of storytellers who inform, educate, and inspire children to become their best selves.  Learn more about our impact.