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Explorers’ Founder to be Honored with Sojourner Truth Institute Award

Contributed by Betty Moorehead- Sojourner Truth Institute

Battle Creek (MICH).-The public is invited to attend the Annual Sojourner Truth Day Celebration, entitled “Vision of Truth” at 4 p.m. Sunday, November 19, at First United Methodist Church, 111 East Michigan Avenue, Battle Creek.

As we celebrate “Vision of Truth, the Sojourner Truth Institute will present its inaugural Dr. Velma Laws Clay Vanguard Award. The award recognizes those who exemplify outstanding service in the spirit and tradition of Dr. Laws Clay and Sojourner Truth.

“The Institute is proud to announce the recipient of this award is Sonya Bernard-Hollins, Founder of Merze Tate Explorers.” “Sonya’s ongoing efforts to empower girls to shape their own destinies is admirable and deserves recognition,” said Kimberly Holley, director of the Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek. “Her work as journalist and author of Here I Stand: A Musical History of African Americans in Battle Creek, MI, brought the stories of unsung musicians from Battle Creek to light and gave them the recognition they deserved.”

Bernard-Hollins, a native of Kalamazoo, MI, and graduate of Western Michigan University, has made outstanding contributions to the Battle Creek and Kalamazoo communities. She was instrumental in the Sojourner Truth 200th Anniversary Committee and Monument Project, has received awards from Michigan Press Association and the Associated Press of Michigan for an award-winning column while at the Battle Creek Enquirer. In addition, she is an author of historic books that highlight African Americans of Michigan, and her work as the founder of the Merze Tate Explorers in Kalamazoo has led to girls achieving great educational heights.

Merze Tate was the first African American graduate of Western State Teachers College (currently Western Michigan University), who went on to become the first African American graduate of Oxford University. Bernard-Hollins is completing a book on Tate’s life and has helped Tate receive recognition with a library named for her in her hometown of Blanchard, Michigan.

“Sojourner Truth. Merze Tate, and Dr. Velma Laws Clay are three women who have been an inspiration in my life,” said Bernard-Hollins, a former editor of the Battle Creek Enquirer and former reporter for the Kalamazoo Gazette. “To have an award presented in their memories is both humbling and motivating.”

Dr. Velma Laws Clay is fondly and respectfully remembered for her tireless dedication and efforts in keeping the legacy of Sojourner Truth alive. “This is a true example of Velma’s vision for the Sojourner Truth Institute.” “Sojourner and Velma are both pillars in our community and from here we step forward to celebrate, educate and lift up those who lead and serve in their legacy,” said Brenda Hunt, President and CEO of the Battle Creek Community Foundation.

The event will feature a special youth-led tribute to Sojourner Truth and music by the Sojourner Truth Youth Choir. “Join us for an afternoon of inspiration, song and the unveiling of a new era for the Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek,” says Betty Moorehead, Sojourner Truth Institute Advisory Board Members and Public Relations Coordinator. A free-will offering will be taken. This event is free and open to the public. An Afterglow Reception will be hosted by National Association of Negro Business & Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc. of Battle Creek.

The Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek was established in 1998 by Dr. Velma Laws Clay to expand the historical and biographical knowledge of Sojourner Truth’s life work and carry on her mission by teaching, demonstrating and promoting projects that accentuate the ideals and principles for which she stood. To that end, the work of the Institute is informative, empowering, and educational, promoting intentional dialogue, collaboration, and civic engagement around the issues of social justice, women’s rights and racial equity. The Sojourner Truth Institute of Battle Creek is an affiliated fund of the Battle Creek Community Foundation.

Pizza! Pizza! Helps Girls Succeed

As the Merze Tate Explorers prepares for an amazing 2018, we ask for your support as we raise funds through various projects. Please support the girls while enjoying Little Caesar’s Pizza. Click on this link to have a pizza or cookie kit sent directly to your door. Our goal is to raise $50,000 for scholarships that will allow our Explorers to study abroad and attend a week-long Travel Writers Academy on a college campus in 2018!

Thank you! Thank you!
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Taste of Italy Event a Success!

Nearly 200 community leaders, family and supporters of the Merze Tate Explorers came out for great Italian food and opera music in their Taste of Italy fundraising dinner at the Ladies’ Library Association on June 1, 2017.

Soprano Rhea Olivacce poses with girls of the Merze Tate Explorers at the historic Ladies’ Library Association in Kalamazoo, MI after an amazing fundraising concert!

Thanks to the generous donations of food from Monelli’s Italian Eatery, the donation of the building by the historic Ladies’ Library, and the phenomenally-angelic sounds of soprano Rhea Olivacce, the audience and students were inspired. The students of the Merze Tate Explorers who will participate in the study abroad to Europe this summer were excited about the support and the gifts of money and other items that were presented to them.

“The old saying that, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ is so true. Without the support of those in the community who have given gifts from $25 to $15,000, we could not do what we do to help girls Explore the Possibilities in life,” said Sonya Bernard-Hollins, founder of the Explorers.

The audience listens as students share of their upcoming European study abroad.








Study abroad students share of their excitement and thanks supporters.








Guests make new friends over dessert after the concert.
Girls help serve guests with the help of the women of the Ladies’ Library Association.













Michelle Mueller presents Shi’Terriona with fun gifts for Europe.

A Taste of Italy to help support study abroad

Invest in girls as they explore the possibilities of life through travel! Six area girls will serve as travel writers and earn 3 college credits as they visit Paris and Italy!

Enjoy the amazing sounds of Soprano Rhea Olivacce as she performs from the famous opera, Carmen!

Enjoy great food and entertainments, all for a good cause! Buy your tickets today: