Belmont’s Joyce Searcy Receives Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award

Tennessee State Capitol Building

Belmont’s Joyce Searcy Receives Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award

May 1, 2024 | by Cara Davis

Joyce Searcy, the Founding Director of Community Relations at Belmont University, has been honored with the 2024 Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award. This award, administered by the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, recognizes individuals in higher education who demonstrate a lasting and meaningful impact through service, are valued by peers and community leaders and embody the legacy of the late Representative Harold Love, Sr. 

Five awards were presented to faculty and staff and five to students of colleges and universities across the state. The faculty/staff award was presented to Searcy and the nine other recipients at a reception held on Monday, April 29, at the Tennessee State Capitol. 

Love, Sr., elected to the General Assembly in 1968, was known for his compassion, good humor and unwavering commitment to serving his community. His son, Representative Harold Love, Jr., was present as TN Higher Education Commission Executive Director Steven Gentile bestowed the award, recognizing her dedication to public service and her significant contributions to the Nashville community. Winning the award “means a lot,” Searcy said, “because it was initiated by the University. It came from [my] colleagues.” 

Searcy also noted a personal connection to the award’s namesake. Searcy and Love, Sr.'s wife became friends while working on the Upward Bound, a federally funded pre-college, academic support summer program. Searcy was the director of the Upward Bound program at Fisk University, while Love, Sr.'s wife directed the same program at Tennessee State University. This shared experience and their involvement in education formed the basis of their friendship. Additionally, Searcy taught at Tennessee State after completing graduate school, further strengthening her connection with the Love family, as Harold Love, Sr. had also done his graduate work at Fisk University. “So it means a lot,” she continued. “I know the people.”

Searcy knows a lot of people, and her influence reaches beyond Belmont. One of Searcy's most notable achievements is establishing the Fisk-Belmont Social Justice Collaborative, a partnership between Belmont, Fisk University and the Nashville Public Library. This initiative educates students about civil rights and social justice movements, preparing them to become future leaders in the field.

As the Nashville Public Library's first black president, she has made the library more inclusive and accessible to all. Terri Luke, Interim Library Director, Nashville Public Library, shared that “under Joyce's leadership, Metro Nashville government has invested millions of public dollars into the Library. NPL is turning those dollars – as well as private investments through the Nashville Public Library Foundation – into free opportunities for all in early literacy, school reading, after-school enrichment, STEM skill-building, digital literacy and more.…She is a bridge-builder, and that personal vocation is her guiding star.”

Luke added, “It's also no secret that Joyce is the No. 1 fan of our Edgehill branch, which is close to her heart – and closest to Belmont University. Thanks in part to her leadership, NPL now auto-enrolls Belmont's first-year students for a free NPL card. We serve these students at the Edgehill branch, connecting them with thousands of free books and e-materials, learning and research databases and more.”

Searcy has been involved in several community service roles throughout her career:

  • As President and CEO of Bethlehem Centers of Nashville (1987-2009), she led a non-profit organization that provided services to promote self-reliance and positive life choices for children, youth, adults and seniors.
  • She founded a neighborhood community development corporation and launched a program to train minority women to serve on boards.
  • Searcy also served on the COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Taskforce to address healthcare disparities and promote health equity for marginalized communities. 
  • Moreover, her leadership and advocacy have been recognized through her selection as one of the Most Leading African Americans in Nashville and her inclusion in the 2019 Class of Nashville Young American Leaders.

Currently, Searcy serves on the Fort Negley Advisory Committee (2018-Present), advocating for Fort Negley Park and ensuring it has the resources needed to reach its full potential. She is also a Board Member and Treasurer/Secretary of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (2016-Present), supporting Hispanic businesses and entrepreneurs in the Nashville area.

"Joyce's exemplary record of public service and tireless dedication to advancing the well-being of others make her an exceptional fit for the Harold Love Outstanding Community Service Award,” said Belmont President Greg Jones. “We count ourselves blessed to have her on our campus."