Cal Wellness Sabbatical Award honoree Mel Mason adventured across three countries during his time away from work. But he nearly didn’t apply for the award at all.
As executive director of The Village Project for more than 11 years, Mr. Mason had to be convinced to apply.
“My board chair and my wife said ‘you need to apply.’ I applied, and then waited for the ‘thanks but no thanks’ call,” Mr. Mason said. “The day I received a phone call here that I had actually been honored with the sabbatical, I almost fell out of my chair. It couldn’t have come at a better time.”
A start in civil rights
Mr. Mason created The Village Project with his wife Regina in 2004. The organization, which came about as a result of the passage of the Mental Health Services Act, was established to help meet the mental health needs of underserved African Americans.
“With the Village Project, I often go back to my start in civil rights, because it goes back to my wife’s and my involvement in civil rights and social equality,” Mr. Mason said. “Back when I was in the Black Panther Party, I wanted to make things better in society for folks who’ve been historically oppressed,” including providing services for communities such as free breakfast for children and free medical clinics.
In fact, Mr. Mason once received a call from one of his fellow Black Panthers, who told him: “You understand that you’re carrying on the legacy of the Black Panther Community Survival Programs at The Village Project?” And I said, “Yes, we absolutely are.”
During his sabbatical, Mr. Mason traveled extensively and went on trips that connected him to his heritage.
“I went to Cherokee, NC, as part of my Cherokee heritage,” Mr. Mason said. “Following that, I went through Black towns in Mexico including Yanga and Veracruz, and then to Canada where, among other things, I visited St. Catharines where Harriet Tubman lived from 1851 to 1861. I visited her old church and also a school that was built in 2016 and named for her. I also met with some very bright and very committed young Black psychologists in Toronto who now view me as an elder and mentor.” (Story continues below)