Pilgrim Place project inspires college class
Written by Tim Sunderland
April 12, 2012

UCC minister David Mann leads a class of college students and residents of Pilgrim Place. The class was developed to help students who are considering careers in social activism.

The next Martin Luther King? Cesar Chavez? Mother Theresa?

At Pilgrim Place, in Claremont, Calif., the consensus is that these people are out there, already doing good work. The question has always been: "What can we do to help this next generation of social activists? How can we pass on the legacy of making a difference in the world to those just starting out.”

Jerry Irish, a professor at Pomona College, and David Mann, a retired UCC minister, were inspired by UCC-related Pilgrim Place to create an environment where these future generations of social activists could be nurtured.

In 2010 Pilgrim Place, a community of retired clergy, missionaries and social activists launched the Napier Initiative, named after Davie and Joy Napier, longtime residents. An important component of the initiative is the development of mentoring relationships between Pilgrim Place residents and final-year students at the nearby Claremont Colleges who are interested in social activism. Two of these students are ultimately awarded $10,000 fellowships each year to help them implement their projects. 

Professor Irish saw a way the Claremont Colleges could carry the effort further. Working with David Mann, the two developed a class for the Spring 2012 semester at Pomona College, called Religion, Ethics and Social Practice: An Intergenerational Learning Partnership on Vocations for Social Change. The class includes 21 students and eleven residents of Pilgrim Place. One of the goals is for each student, working with a Pilgrim Place mentor, to develop a proposal for a three- to nine-month project somewhere in the United States or overseas.

"We're teaching inspiration, motivation and skills for social activists," said David Mann, who resides at Pilgrim Place and spent most of his 36-year career in urban and community ministries with the PICO National Network. "We have them reading everything from Albert Camus to Saul Alinsky."

Davie Napier, ordained in the Congregational Church, was a chaplain, educator and mentor at Yale, Stanford and the Pacific School of Religion. He and Joy were prophetic advocates for social justice, world peace and the environment. Their legacy includes a host of students who went on to effect great social change.

Paul Rice, a 1980 graduate of Yale, counted the Napiers among his chief influences. Rice was the keynote speaker at the first Napier Award for Creative Leadership ceremony in February 2011. He told how, upon graduating from Yale, he headed for Nicaragua. After eleven years, Rice returned to establish Fair Trade USA, managing sustainable development and community empowerment through an equitable global trade model for third-world farmers. He is a four-time winner of the Social Capitalist of the Year Award from Fast Company Magazine.

"I can look at our class now," said Irish, "and tell you that we have five or six students who I know are of the caliber of Paul Rice. These are people who are ready to do big things."

To find out more about the Napier Initiative at Pilgrim Place, or to contribute, go to http://napierinitiative.org.

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