Napa Valley is filled with rolling hills, glorious vineyards and stunning views; home to over 3.5 million visitors a year. For those who can afford to live in this area and enjoy the “Napa Life Style’’ it is truly a blessing. However, there are many Napans who are struggling to put food on their table, a growing Latino population where many live a very different kind of “Napa Life Style,” unknown to the tourists. The rich diversity of the Napa Valley, our beautiful cultural heritages as well as our challenges serve as the foundation of MLK Monday: A Day of Action and Compassion.
We know the reality and often shy away from addressing it. Gratefully, there are many outstanding non-profits, service groups and businesses putting real effort into bridging the divide between the Anglo and Hispanic Cultures; providing services to those in need and working to find way to address the social, economic and cultural schisms that permeate the Valley. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated it well: “We must learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools.” There are many who are taking that challenge most seriously.
For many years, there has been an interfaith celebration of the Life and Legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. has been held. It was generally an evening service, and often attended by approximately 100 people. For those who attended, it was inspiring and a reminder of King’s life and teachings.
In 2015 the gathering was transformed. Over 300 people gathered at Congregation Beth Shalom to hear the moving words of local activist, Hope Lugo, as well as uplifting music and the eloquent words of MLK brought to life. “On the way home that evening I felt good that so many people had gathered, yet also felt empty that all we had done was utter words and not taken any actions to better our community.” (Rabbi Lee Bycel, MLK Coalition Founder and 2017 MLK Co-Chair). That led to Lee and Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht meeting and deciding we must make this into something much bigger. Thus, the MLK Coalition was born, which has now grown to include over 70 organizational members, representing all sectors of life in the Napa Valley.
Starting in 2016, the Coalition shaped MLK Monday: A Day of Action and Compassion. Following an inspiring service attended by over 400 people at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church; people went out into the community to participate in service projects, including restoring woodland habitats, visiting with seniors, cleaning up our local animal shelter, city streets and elementary school campuses.
People of all ages were involved in these projects. “It was heartwarming, visiting the various sites where local community members worked together for the betterment of our city, and I was inspired to bring more opportunities for service to the next MLK event.” (Jeni Olsen, Founder of Teens Connect and 2017 MLK Co-Chair).
This year the Coalition has greatly expanded its membership and its programming. It will begin on Sunday night January 15 at 7pm, with a showing of the powerful film, Selma, at Congregation Beth Shalom, and continue the next morning at St. Johns. There will be over 20 Service projects available, and also a vast array of opportunities for acts of compassion and learning. Teens and families are very much encouraged to attend this event designed for people of all ages. In addition to the community service projects, there will also be opportunities to write letters to the men and women in our military overseas (Operation with Love from Home); a chance to learn about Islam from local police officer, Omar Salem; a walk through downtown Napa featuring civil and
human rights sights with Reverend Jay Lang; and a chance to discuss MLK’s historic “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail” with Rabbi Lee Bycel.
At 7pm on Monday, January 16, the community will gather at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. The coalition is hoping that this year’s community celebration (this non-religious service is inclusive of everyone) will attract 700 people. There will be choirs, and the keynote Speaker this year is Amelia Ceja. Ceja immigrated to America with a green card when she was 12. It was 1967 and she joined her father, a farm worker who toiled in the California vineyards. She is now president of Ceja Vineyards. There will be a Spanish translator and many words spoken in Spanish.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. The MLK Coalition has a dream of a day of community gathering and unity,
where people of all cultures and backgrounds gather to serve, learn, perform compassionate acts and celebrate MLK’s Legacy. However, the dream does not end there. The dream is that the day only helps to stimulate more people to get actively involved in the many Napa Valley projects that seek to improve the quality of life for everyone in the Valley.
Dr. King said: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” MLK Monday is about finite and infinite hope; hope in humanity, hope in community and the hope of what we can do when we come together in respect, with compassion and a resolve to make things better.
Rabbi Lee Bycel and Jeni Olsen are Co-Chairs of MLK Monday 2017. To find out more information about the day please visit our facebook page: @mlkmonday. To sign up for a project, please visit volunteer.cvnl.org