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New Merced College Plaza, Sculpture to Be Unveiled at ‘State of the College

By James Leonard l May 11, 2023

The ninth annual State of the College event at Merced College returns Tuesday, May 30, with a celebration of the Isakow Family and the unveiling of the new Hermione Isakow Plaza.

The event will feature President Chris Vitelli’s State of the College address, along with the presentation of the President’s Medallion Award—which recognizes the college’s greatest supporters—to the Isakow family. Tickets and sponsorships are still available and can be purchased online at

The plaza, where the event will be held, is envisioned as a welcoming space for the community and campus visitors, a gathering place for students and the campus community, a unique learning space for the college’s arts program, and an intimate outdoor location for events.

“The State of the College event is our opportunity to let the community know about all the innovative initiatives happening at Merced College, and to honor a family who has made such a generous contribution to our district,” Vitelli said. “The Hermione Isakow Plaza is a beautiful addition to our Merced campus, providing an engaging new space that will be enjoyed by students and community members alike for decades to come.”

After living most of her life in South Africa, Hermione Isakow and her husband Leiz moved to Merced in 2010 to be closer to their eldest son Isaac and his family. Hermione’s final years were clouded by a long bout with amyloidosis, and she died in 2020. In 2021, her sons chose to honor her memory and her contributions to their lives through a $1 million gift to fund the design and construction of the Hermione Isakow Plaza near the front of the campus.

The centerpiece of the plaza is a large sculpture of a Baobab tree, which carries great symbolic significance in Africa and is known as the “tree of life,” because it produces fruit and nectar year-round and stores large amounts of water in its trunk, even in very dry climates.

Scott and Madelyn McGrath of McGrath Arts in Mariposa designed and built the 4,100-pound, galvanized steel sculpture, which stands at 15 feet tall and includes branches that span 20 feet. The tree is decorated with 3,000 hand-forged metal leaves, orb-shaped fruits, whydah birds, parrots, an owl in a lighted knothole, and 30 lighted flowers. The 6-foot-wide trunk is textured to represent holes made by elephants to pull water from the giant succulent.

Information about tickets and sponsorships can be found at Contact Grace Mendoza at 209-381-6471 for assistance.

‘America’s Got Talent’ Winner Brandon Leake to Host Poetry Showcase at Merced College on May 2

CVV News l April 25, 2023

Brandon Leake

Brandon Leake, the first spoken-word poet to be named champion of America’s Got Talent, will host a special evening of performances by local poets, rappers and writers at 4:30 p.m. May 2 at the Merced College Admin Amphitheater. (in front of the Administration Building on the Merced campus).

Leake will perform and emcee the Poetry Showcase, a free event open to all members of the public. Blankets and chairs are recommended, and a limited number of chairs will be available.

Those interested in performing at the Poetry Showcase are encouraged to contact Karrie Bullock at 209-386-6703 or> no later than Friday, April 28. No level of expertise is required to perform, and a $250 grand prize and other prizes will be awarded.

“Spoken-word poetry brings together incredible talent and artistry, and bravery,” said Merced College reference librarian Karrie Bullock, who is organizing the event. “There is acceptance, support, and positivity in a slam atmosphere that allows folks to get vulnerable, be heard and seen, and participate in the experience. Brandon elevates that experience.”

The event marks the second appearance by Leake at Merced College. In April 2022, he held a performance for college staff and faculty, followed by an Open Mic Night featuring Merced College students. Leake has also held a masterclass series of poetry workshops for students via Zoom throughout the Spring 2023 semester.

Leake is an award-winning spoken word poet, artistic educator and motivational speaker from Stockton. His creative mixture of art, charisma and passion tailored to his own unique personal narrative has taken him across the world as a speaker and performer. He has performed in locations such as New Zealand, Mexico, Canada, and 36 states around the country on “Dark Side” tour, promoting his first published poetry chapbook “Unraveling” and his album “Deficiencies: A Tale From My Dark Side.”

He is also the founder and CEO of Called to Move (CTM), an artistry organization that aims to aid youth in self-actualization and personal development through the art of poetry.

Felicia Roberts took an idea gathered a few people to reached into a minority community to highlight the positive, using a minority newspaper the Central Valley Voice. Roberts was joined by her sisters Carolyn Williams, Alleashia Thomas, niece Hermonie Lynn Williams, nephew Ron Williams, cousin Jerald Lester, Jay Slaffey, Greg Savage, Tim Daniels and the late J Denise Fontaine. Each individual played an important role in the birth of the newspapers. Since, then many have stood strong behind the success of the newspapers and its goal to fill a void in the Central Valley community. The Central Valley Voice published their 1st issue in November 1991. Its purposed was to highlight the achievements of minorities in the Central Valley. The Voice focuses on the accomplishments of African Americans and Hispanics giving young people role models while diminishing the stereotypical pictures of gangs, crime and violence that permeate the minority communities. Since 1991, the Central Valley Voice has provided an important voice for the minority community throughout the Madera, Merced. Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties.

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