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On Friday, Aug. 5, during the dinner break of Inspire 2022, Rev. Sheila Holmes and Michelle Loyd-Paige, Ph.D., each received the Dante Venegas Award in recognition of their work in racial reconciliation.

The Dante Venegas Award is given by the Office of Race Relations to honor distinguished leadership in diversity and racial justice work in the Christian Reformed Church. 

The award is named after Rev. Dante Venegas, a Black, Puerto Rican co-pastor at Madison Square CRC (Grand Rapids, Mich.) who died in 2007 after a long struggle with cancer. In recognition of the Office of Race Relations’s 50th anniversary, organizers decided to present two awards: one in the area of pastoral and congregational work and the other for work in a community setting.

Holmes received the pastoral award. “When I was in fourth grade,” she recalled, “my mother and stepfather moved to Paterson, N.J., where I felt disconnected and all alone. It was God’s grace that finally directed my family to move up the hill from a new church, Northside Community Chapel CRC. It was a SWIM (Summer Workshop in Ministry) Team walking through my neighborhood that invited me to church.” 

A few years later, Holmes was an active part of the church youth group and was excited to begin attending Christian school. “This was probably my first face-to-face experience of systemic racism and bias,” she said. “What I thought was a loving Christian environment became challenging and disappointing. The only saving grace was that the teachers and staff were wonderful—not only academically, but also relationally. Through this experience there was a drive empowered by the Holy Spirit within me to make a difference in this world of injustice.”

As a young adult, Holmes remained involved in leadership roles in her church and the broader community. She mentored young people, was on the Synodical Committee on Race Relations, and participated in the CRCNA’s multiethnic conference, and she’s been a member of the CRCNA’s Black and Reformed Leadership group.

When God called her to ministry, she was certain it would not be with the Christian Reformed Church. “God in his sense of humor had other plans,” she joked. She was ordained as a minister of the word in the CRCNA in 1998.

“As the first African-American female minister of the Word in the CRCNA, I’ve had the opportunity to encourage other minority groups to see the importance of actively participating and making a difference in this denomination,” she said.

Loyd-Paige received the community award. At Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., Loyd-Paige serves as the executive associate to the president for diversity and inclusion and is a professor of sociology. 

“Recently, someone asked how long I had been involved in diversity work,” she said. “My tongue-in-cheek response: ‘Well, I have been Black all my life, so I guess just over 60 years.’ I was born two years after the Montgomery bus boycott. My childhood, adolescence, and adult life is a narrative of living with at least two targets on my back: Black and female. The stories I could tell of microaggressions, blatant discrimination, struggles with racial identity and self-esteem, and unpacking systemic racism are many. I have the scars that show that I have not been sitting on the sidelines.”

Indeed, Loyd-Paige has been actively working for racial justice. She earned her Ph.D. from Purdue University and served as a teaching faculty member, chair of the sociology and social work department, and dean of multicultural affairs at Calvin University before taking on her current role. She is often sought as a consultant and speaker on matters of diversity and inclusion and in 2019 joined The Antioch Podcast as a regular contributor. 

“I won’t lie—there have been moments and seasons that I felt like the work was too hard and too emotionally wounding,” Loyd-Page recalled. “And then my favorite passage from Lamentations 3:19-24 would come to mind: ‘I remember my affliction and my wandering … yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will wait for him.”’”

In her waiting on the Lord, Loyd-Page said, she has found the courage and confidence to fight for justice within every sphere of her influence. 

Both women were honored during a presentation at Inspire 2022 in Tinley Park, Ill. Each award came with an engraved crystal trophy along with a monetary prize of $1,000.

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