Madison Johnson led a protest outside Grand County High School in 2015 asking for the federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, to also be a school holiday. The school board granted the request and the following year Johnson and her mother, Sherri Costanza, organized the first Coffee With the King event. [Photo courtesy of Sherri Costanza]

This year, there are several events taking place in Moab on Jan. 20 to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy as a civil rights leader.

Coffee With the King, a Moab MLK Day classic, is once again taking place at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center (111 E. 100 North) from 9 a.m. until noon.

Now in its fifth year, Coffee With the King was begun by Madison Johnson and her mother, Sherri Costanza, in 2016.

Madison Johnson was a junior at Grand County High School in 2015 when she and other students held a protest of what they saw as the school’s disregard of MLK Day, Costanza said. Originally, the students asked for the school either to offer more educational activities about King and his work or not hold school on that day. The school district decided to take the day off.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) presented Madison Johnson with a Youth Civic Engagement Award for her work on behalf of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in April of 2015.

With no school on MLK Day the following year, Costanza said they decided to offer the community an event to commemorate King, and Coffee With the King was launched at the MARC.

At the event, the full audio of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech is played. The speech was first delivered during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Dave’s Corner Market provides the coffee.

“It’s a meeting place for conversation and having the tough talks that communities need to have,” Costanza said, adding that in the future she would like to expand the Coffee With the King event to feature speakers and possibly a diversity training.

Part of Johnson’s and Costanza’s motivation for holding Coffee With the King is Costanza’s youngest daughter (and Johnson’s sister), Mya, who is biracial. Both Costanza and Johnson said they want to support Mya as she grows up in a predominantly white small town.

“It’s not that Moab’s not diverse. It is,” said Costanza, while adding that children who are raised here may go on to places that are far more diverse, and would, in any case, benefit from understanding America’s legacy of racism.

Costanza said that just recently she heard about a boy Mya’s age, who lives in Moab, who was told he can’t have a crush on a girl because she is black.

“It’s tragic that we’re still there, you know?” she said.

Subhead: Day of Service

“The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on Jan. 20, 2020, marks the 25th anniversary of the day of service that celebrates the Civil Rights leader’s life and legacy,” states the Corporation for National and Community Service, an agency tasked by the U.S. Congress in 1994 with leading the nationwide service effort, on its website.

“Taking place each third Monday in January, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service — a ‘day on, not a day off,’” it goes on to say. “This day of service helps to empower individuals, strengthen communities, bridge barriers, address social problems, and move us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’”

“The Corporation for National and Community Service is in charge of AmeriCorps, and the VISTA program is part of that,” said Maddy Simboli, the VISTA project director in Moab.

AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs dedicated to improving lives and fostering civic engagement. Members commit their time to address critical community needs like increasing academic achievement, mentoring youth, fighting poverty, sustaining national parks, preparing for disasters, and more. Members of the VISTA program are specifically focused on organizations working to alleviate poverty, according to

Simboli said that local VISTA volunteers working in partnership with the Moab Valley Multicultural Center, the Moab Free Health Clinic and Homewood Suites by Hilton Moab have organized Moab-based volunteer opportunities as part of the nationwide day of service, noting there are currently 10 VISTA volunteers in Moab serving at the Moab Free Health Clinic, Community Rebuilds, the Children’s Justice Center, the Youth Garden Project, the Grand County Office of Community and Economic Development, the Housing Authority of Southeastern Utah, the Southeast Utah Health Department and Moab Regional Hospital.

As of press time, service projects are planned to run from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. and include tagging and hanging clothes at WabiSabi nonprofit thrift store (160 E. 100 South), library cataloging and other activities at Canyonlands Field Institute (1320 S. Hwy 191) and sorting insect specimens with Tim Graham at Homewood Suites by Hilton (132 N. Main St.).

Graham said the bugs are all specimens that he’s collected in La Sals. The sorting does not require expertise and anyone can do it.

“The more, the merrier,” Graham said.

Graham said the data collected will be used to determine “a baseline” of insect populations in the La Sals which can be used for comparison in the future to see if there have been any changes. Graham said this is particularly important in light of disturbances in the mountains such as increased recreation, introduced mountain goats, climate change and grazing, adding that very little study of insects has been done in the area previously.

The study is sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service and funded through a grant from the Canyonlands Natural History Association designed to support scientists in addressing issues that are of interest to the management agency. Graham said the Forest Service will be the primary user of the data which can be used to inform management decisions in the future.

There will also be other drop-in service projects at the Homewood Suites location.

“It’s a really awesome opportunity for the community to come together and make a difference on MLK Day,” Simboli said.

Simboli also said that they are open to adding more service projects to the itinerary, and those with service project ideas are encouraged to call Simboli at the Moab Free Health Clinic, 435-259-1113.

What: Coffee With the King

When: Monday, Jan. 20, from 9 a.m. until noon

Where: The Moab Arts and Recreation Center, 111 E. 100 North

What: MLK Jr. day of service 

When: Monday, Jan. 20, from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m.

Where: Homewood Suites by Hilton Moab, 132 N. Main St.

Contact: Maddy Simboli, 435-259-1113