Dr. Velma Laws Clay was a visionary, mentor and advocate for inclusiveness whose life’s work made an indelible impression on the Battle Creek community.
Dr. Clay received her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration, Master's Degree in Public Administration and Doctorate in Public Administration from Western Michigan University. She served as Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity Office for the Hart-Dole-Inouye Battle Creek Federal Center until her retirement in 2004, after 43 years of government service.
Dr. Clay was a life member of the NAACP, and also served on many boards and committees throughout the Battle Creek area, including the Board of Directors for North Pointe Woods, Historical Society of Battle Creek, Sojourner Truth Institute, Art Center of Battle Creek, Battle Creek Community Foundation, Kalamazoo Institute of Art, National Resource Center for the Healing of Racism, Starr Commonwealth and Second's New Vision and Outreach Ministries. Dr. Clay’s most prominent community volunteer initiatives involved her passion to preserve and educate others about Sojourner Truth’s legacy. In 1997, she served as Chair of the Sojourner Truth 200th Birthday Anniversary Celebration. Dr. Clay founded the Sojourner Institute of Battle Creek that same year. She also chaired the Sojourner Truth Monument Project and subsequent unveiling in 1999.
A dedicated community leader, Dr. Clay received numerous awards and accolades for her service. Among her many honors are the Battle Creek Chapter – National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs Inc. Sojourner Truth Award, Battle Creek Rotary Club Red Rose Award, Battle Creek Chamber of Commerce Athena Award, Battle Creek Enquirer George Award, Kellogg Community College Alumnus of the Year and Western Michigan University School of Public Affairs and Administration Alumni Achievement Award. In 2003, she was named Scene Magazine’s Woman of the Year.
An avid art collector, Dr. Clay was instrumental in bringing African American artists to the Battle Creek community, most notably through her private collection of the educational series Journey to Freedom. Dr. Clay transitioned from this life in 2016, leaving a legacy of civic engagement that will continue to impact the Battle Creek community for generations to come