Boa Me Na Me Mmoa Wo | “Help Me and Let Me Help You”
Mel Mason is the Co-Founder, Executive Director, and Clinical Director of The Village Project, Inc. Mel grew up in Seaside. He is perhaps better known in many local communities as a long time nationally and internationally recognized human and civil rights activist who has helped lead many movements for social justice.
Professionally, Mel is also an acknowledged psychotherapist who places cultural competence at the center of the work of psychotherapists today. Founded in 2008 by Mel and his wife Regina Mason, a retired supervisor in Monterey County’s Child Welfare System. The Village Project provides clinical and other support services to youth, families and young and older adults. Mel takes pride in the fact that The Village Project, in its work with interns and student trainees, has become a highly regarded training ground for what Mel calls “a new breed of therapists” who will not only be able to work cross-culturally and effectively with clients from any and all backgrounds, but therapists who will be change agents in their work and in society as well.
Mel cites his experiences as a member of The Black Panther Party in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as the primary reason he chose a career as a Counselor and Therapist. He believes his work in the Black Panther Party’s “Community Survival Programs” in Oakland, which included the Free Breakfast for Children Program, the free medical clinic and the free legal services program, helped fully prepare him for his future life in the helping professions. In fact, other former Panthers have remarked that by co-founding The Village Project, Inc., Mel was continuing the tradition of the Black Panther Party’s community survival programs.
In his youth, Mel was known for being a star basketball player at Monterey Union High School and Monterey Peninsula College. His records for scoring and rebounding at Monterey Peninsula College still stand today. It was thought by many that he would go to the NBA. However, after accepting a scholarship to Oregon State University over 103 other universities that wanted him, he took a stand against racism at that university that led to the loss of his scholarship and being barred from playing basketball at any other university in the country. Players who were from his era, some of whom he played against, made it into the NBA. Each of them considered Mel to be the best of them all. Mel said he was eventually consoled by his mother who told him that she believed “God has something better for you to do.” Mel believes that his involvement in movements and in his eventual profession were his mother’s words coming true. In 2011, Mel was inducted into the California Community College Athletic Association’s Hall Of Fame.
After the government’s destruction of the Black Panther Party, Mel remained active. He organized the first African American United Farmworkers Support Committee after meeting Cesar Chavez during the 1970 Great Lettuce Strike throughout most of Monterey County. He also became a leader of the Socialist Workers Party and, in addition to serving as an elected Seaside City Councilman (1980-84), he ran for Governor of California in 1982 and for President of the United States in 1984. He was invited to stay with Maori’s in New Zealand and Aborigines in Australia in 1985 in support of the Land Movements by both people to recover land stolen by their respective governments. He was also a friend of the late Grenadan Prime Minster Maurice Bishop, with whom he stayed in 1979, and, while a guest of the Sandanista government in Nicaragua in 1984, was befriended by an activist from Brazil named Inacio Lula DaSilva or “Lula”. This activist would later become President of Brazil.
In later years, Mel became a Life Member of the NAACP and served three terms as President of its Monterey County Branch leading fights against police brutality, attacks on unions and job discrimination. He also served as a Vice President of the California State Conference of the NAACP. He was a co-founder and Chair of such groups as the Civil Rights Coalition of Monterey County and the Regional Alliance for Progressive Policy. His life has been chronicled in a number of books and periodicals including REACH: 40 Black Men Speaking on Leading, Living and Succeeding, edited by Ben Jealous and Trabian Shorters, Voices of Change, edited by Gary Karnes and Karen Arajuo and Myths and Legends of Cannery Row, by late historian Ed Larsh, who had also been Mel’s high school basketball coach.
Mel holds an Associate of Arts Degree from Monterey Peninsula College, a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Science from Golden Gate University and a Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW), with an emphasis in Mental Health, from San Jose State University. He is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), licensed by the State of California’s Board of Behavioral Sciences. In addition to his numerous political affiliations, Mel is an associate member of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi) and a member of the National Association of Black Social Workers. He is married to the love of his life Regina Mason and has two sons, Melvin Jr. and Hasani, and a niece, Candice Carroll.