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.