Editor’s note: The Napa Valley Register is a sister paper to The Weekly Calistogan.
In dark times, often all we can do is shine our own small light.
All Napa County residents have a chance to shine their lights on the weekend of Jan. 16 as the home-grown Martin Luther King Coalition holds its largest-ever Day of Action and Compassion.
The event brings together dozens of churches, non-profits and businesses (including the Napa Valley Register) to host a series of events and volunteer projects with a theme of service and community building. The bulk of the action will be on Jan. 16, the Monday on which the official Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated, starting in the morning with a series of seminars and projects, ranging from group discussions on the Holocaust and the principles of Islam to service projects, such as writing letters to troops deployed abroad and cleaning up area hiking trails.
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church will be the headquarters for all the events, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
That evening, organizers and volunteers will reconvene at St. John at 7 p.m. for an interfaith celebration, featuring a variety of presentations, including an address by Amelia Ceja, owner of Ceja Vineyards and winner of the 2016 Dolores Huerta Farmworker Justice Award.
The event is similar to the coalition’s event last year, but organizers are hoping for more – more projects, more attendees, more connection with the county’s growing Latino population. Last year the event attracted more than 400 people; this year they hope for more than 700.
They also hope to generate interest and discussion by extending the event into the previous weekend. On Sunday, Jan. 15 the coalition will host a free showing of the award-winning 2014 movie “Selma,” telling the story of the 1965 civil rights march, organized in part by King, from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. The march was met with violence from Alabama state police. Images of the savagery against peaceful demonstrators shocked the nation and helped push through the landmark federal Voting Rights Act later that year.
The movie will be shown at Congregation Beth Shalom at 1455 Elm Street at 7 p.m.
So what is all this about?
The Register Editorial Board met recently with two organizers of this coalition, Rabbi Lee Bycel of Congregation Beth Shalom, and Napa County Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, to discuss details of this year’s events. Their message was simple – we need to remember that we are all citizens together and start acting like it.
“Civic engagement is more desperately needed than ever,” Bycel told the board.
The coalition is the outgrowth of a much smaller traditional Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration hosted for many years by area churches. They revamped the format three years ago and drew a few hundred participants to a non-denominational celebration. But afterwards, Bycel said, it seemed wrong to merely say words on such a day, so he, Wagenknecht and others decided to make the event a true day of service.
That way, at least one day out of the year, county residents of all faiths, all political parties, and all interests can meet, discuss issues and join together in productive service to the community. The hope is to create a sense of county-wide identity, develop relationships between non-profits and volunteers, and set the stage for other discussions and projects throughout the year.
Getting involved is easy. If you want to attend or find out more about the still-evolving lineup of projects, visit volunteer.cvnl.org and click on MLK Day of Service (Napa), or visit Facebook and search for @mlkmonday.
But you don’t even have to sign up in advance – organizers welcome walk-ins during the day at St. John’s parish hall. And there is no need to sign up for either the movie showing or the Monday evening celebration.
It would be easy to dismiss all this as impossibly high-minded idealism, but we ask, what’s wrong with that? In an era of cynicism, fear, and anger, of partisan division and national gridlock, we applaud the coalition organizers for thinking lofty thoughts and hoping to bring out the best in their fellow Napa County residents. Who knows where their efforts, and the good will that will be built on that day, may lead?
As King himself said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
We hope you will join Napa County’s Martin Luther King Coalition in taking a step in making this a stronger and better place to live.
If we all shine our small lights together, we can brighten even the darkest of times.