Ojai celebrates MLK Day on Monday, Jan. 17, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Libbey Park

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Perry Van Houten, Ojai Valley News senior reporter

After going virtual in 2021, Ojai’s annual event honoring the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. returns in person on Monday, Jan. 17.

The 22nd Annual MLK Day celebration, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., near the Libbey Park Fountain, is sponsored by Ojai Valley Youth Foundation.

The free event, scaled down a bit this year due to COVID-19, features guest speakers, student musicians and singers, and essay and poetry contest winners.

In selecting a theme for the celebration, “one of the first things we do is we think about things that are important in the world or things that could really connect to MLK Day,” said committee member and student volunteer Emily Michie.

This year, the committee chose the theme of accessibility, “whether that be to mental-health resources or health care or food or shelter; anything that may be necessary,” Michie said. “The lack of accessibility and the need for access to resources was exacerbated by COVID.”

In making accessibility the theme, the committee partnered with Help of Ojai and the nonprofit 

Family Fund. A major part of this year’s event is a canned food drive, with all proceeds going to Help of Ojai’s Community Assistance Program, said Michie.

Javier Ramirez, principal of Chaparral High School, will speak about Family Fund and the services it provides to students and the community, Michie said.

The program also includes the playing of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, a proclamation from the city of Ojai presented by Mayor Betsy Stix, and a blessing delivered by Chumash elder Julie Tumamait-Stenslie.

Again this year, student artwork will fill the Pergola. “We have a lot of collaborative posters from all the local schools; from the elementary schools to the high schools. Those are always fun to see,” Michie said.

The entire community can participate in a new activity this year, the Hopes and Dreams Trees, where a rope with small flags attached is strung between two trees. “People are free to write quotes that might inspire them or hopes they have for the future,” Michie said.

The nonprofit OVYF was established in 1997 by the city of Ojai, the county of Ventura, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and OUSD, with Caryn Bosson as founding director.

In 2000, the newly founded organization introduced Ojai’s MLK Day celebration, with a grant from the California Wellness Foundation.

The MLK Day Committee is advised by Kate Russell and consists of Michie and six other students who plan the celebration. “Our committee just has so much powerful energy,” Russell said, adding the event seeks to foster an environment of including one another.

The committee includes Ela Ruf, Karen Murillo, Amelia Bagley, Nakaya Mendoza, Beck Zimmerman and Kate Seery.

According to Ruf, “MLK Day is an opportunity for the community to get together around a really important message: equality.”

“Ojai’s MLK Day has been a constant for the last 22 years as a reminder that even though we have been apart, the importance of unity connects us,” said Bagley.

For people who can’t attend, organizers planned to stream the event live on the city of Ojai’s website and on OVYF’s website.

According to Michie, the strength of the Ojai community shines during challenging and uncertain times. “Although we are having to change plans and curtail the event, our community is still dedicated to honoring and celebrating Dr. King’s message,” she said. “I think that is a really special quality of Ojai.”


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