Bahai News -- Lodi News-Sentinel - Lodi activist Natalie Reyes moves away after six years of fostering diversity Monday, June 02, 2003

Lodi activist Natalie Reyes moves away after six years of fostering diversity

By Jessica A. Hardy/News-Sentinel Staff Writer

When Natalie Reyes, 76, moved to Lodi six years ago, she was ready to settle in.

She became active in the local community, promoting racial unity and diversity through her Baha'i faith and involving herself in such organizations as Police Partners and the Community Concert Association.

But Reyes could not economically afford to live in Lodi.

Despite Social Security benefits and a part-time job, she moved to Petal, Miss., yesterday, where she purchased an acre of land containing a 2,300-square foot, three bedroom and two bathroom house.

Her house payments in Mississippi will be half the amount of her rent in Lodi.

"Home is where I hang my hat, even though I don't wear a hat," Reyes said.

"But I am hopeful that Mississippi will be my last move."

Reyes has hung her hat many places. When she became serious about Baha'i in her early 20s, she developed a desire to travel through the United States to introduce her faith to people unfamiliar with it.

She was born in Denver, Colo., and moved to Red Bluff when she was 18. From Red Bluff she moved to San Jose, and then lingered through Kansas, Illinois, Florida and Wyoming over the course of 30 years. Finally in 1995, after a Baha'i pilgrimage to Israel, Germany and Great Britain, she moved to Lodi.

One of her primary goals in moving to Lodi, with a Baha'i community of three people at the start of her residency, was to inform community members of the existence of Baha'i and encourage investigation into the principles of racial and religious unity it offered.

The Race Unity Picnic was one of the first informational activities she and the Lodi Baha'i community planned.

The picnic, which is going on its seventh year, promotes the celebration of diversity in the Lodi community through international music and dance presentations, hot dogs and a proclamation of purpose by the mayor.

Additionally, throughout her stay in Lodi, Reyes set up Baha'i exhibits at the Lodi Public Library, the Lodi News-Sentinel, the Celebration on Central and the Lodi Street Fair. These exhibits focused on Baha'i history and philosophy promoting "the unity of mankind," and championing the phrase, "there is no room in my heart for prejudice."

In 1998, after the cross burning at Tokay High School, Reyes became directly involved in the reconciliation that followed through the Breakthrough Project. She became a member of the project's education committee -- responsible for enlightening the community of the need for and benefits of racial unity.

Reyes also volunteered at least 16 hours of her month to complete clerical work for Police Partners of Lodi and participated in a community wellness program called the Coronary Health Improvement Project, which promoted lifestyle and diet changes.

Perhaps she was most influential as the three-year publicity chairman for the Community Concert Association of Lodi. She became involved in the CCA after noticing a lack of young people at the concerts she attended. Her involvement helped spur matinee concerts specifically designed to reach school-aged children.

"Natalie was a very efficient publicity chairman," said E. J. McCaughna, the three-year president and five- year member of the CCA, adding that she had good ideas and efficiently promoted events.

While Reyes was a member of the Lodi community for only six years, she built a niche and reputation for herself that cannot be ignored.

"I am grateful for the wonderful friendships and support I've had," she said. "I hope that the people of Lodi continue their present efforts to unite and recognize diversity."

©Copyright 2003, Lodi News-Sentinel (CA, USA)

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