The Ashland Beacon
If you were to look up the definition of a true public servant in a dictionary, a photo of Bernice Henry would accompany it. In addition to a long list of executive boards, committees, and commissions, Bernice Henry has been hand selected by Governor Andy Beshear to serve on the commonwealth’s Human Rights Commission.
Created in 1960, the Human Rights Commission was founded by the Kentucky General Assembly. It was created to encourage equal treatment as well as mutual understanding and respect between minority groups.
The Kentucky Human Rights Commission has been the states top authority in enforcing anti-discrimination laws across the state since the passage of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act in 1964. In fact, Kentucky was the first state south of the Mason-Dixon to outlaw discrimination in the state level.
The Commission provides legal representation to those who have faced discrimination, as well as education, training, and other outreach initiatives. Henry has been appointed as part of the 7th District, which encompasses a large portion of eastern Kentucky.
Those who are appointed to the Commission have a long history of public service, and Bernice Henry is no exception. She has served on boards including the Ramey-Estep Advisory Board, CARES Board, the 21st Century Advisory Board, the Ashland Human Rights Commission, and the Ashland Board of City Commissioners. And this is certainly not a complete list of all Henry has done for her state and town.
“You just do it,” Henry said, when asked how she manages to keep all her activities straight. “I do not want the younger generations to experience what I have in my lifetime. Henry was born in Catlettsburg during the era of school segregation. Because the schools in Catlettsburg were for whites only, Henry traveled by bus to the Booker T. Washington School in Ashland. When schools were integrated, she attended Paul Blazer High School, and was part of the second graduating class. She later attended Morehead State University for college.
Throughout her life, she has been dedicated to paving the way for progress, both in Ashland and across the state.
“I was fortunate enough to work with the late Carol Jackson on the Ashland Human Rights board,” Henry said. “We traveled across the state together, meeting so many wonderful people across the state.”
During her travels, she spent much of her time learning as much as possible about what people living in other areas experience.
Henry said she believed knowledge was always one thing that could never be taken from her. She also wanted to make sure her three sons never experienced what she did as a young girl.
“From a young age, it was instilled in me that if you want something to change, go out and do it yourself. I always encourage people not to sit around and grumble about an issue, but instead go be part of the progress.”
Henry also credits her church family at New Hope Baptist Church for supporting her through her endeavors.
“My faith is what sustains me,” she said. “They are always supportive and encouraging, and not a lot of people are like that.”
Because she lived in an era of segregation and experiences the racism that is still alive today, she is dedicated to continuing to work toward equality and providing guidance to younger generations as well. She said she is amazed at the work of young people in the area regarding racial equality.
“Anything I learned I always want to bring back here and apply it at home, if it's applicable,” Henry said. “I also want to make sure that in Ashland, the right people have access to the right information so real change can be made here, not just in major cities.”
Henry was initially contacted by State Representative Rocky Adkins back in the fall regarding her appointment to the Human Rights Commission. However, she was currently serving as a City Commissioner at the time. Because she was prohibited from serving on the board while holding an elected position, they held the spot for her until the election results were final.
“I am so excited for this new journey,” Henry said. “I find it so amusing all these different doors in my life have opened at just the right time, so I am never reluctant to go through whatever door God has opened.”
Last week, Henry attended her first virtual meeting and was able to hear different people speak on discrimination across the state. She also mentioned, with a laugh, that it felt real when she received a 90-page agenda in the mail. Her duties will include collaborating with attorneys and other board members on how to best handle discrimination cases.
Henry is a true example of dedicating your life to others and is well-loved by the Ashland community. She is a true advocate for others and a beacon of transcending generational and other barriers minority groups may face.