A number of Portales citizens heard a call to live out Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of love and service to others Monday.
The community’s 25th annual Martin Luther King Jr. event, with the theme “celebrating” our youth, began with a march from the Roosevelt County Museum to the Memorial Building. The Cannon Air Force Base Honor Guard led the small procession.
At the Memorial Building, participants marked the day with songs, speeches, a letter from Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and nine readings by children of various works celebrating King and the African-American journey.
Eleven-year-old Alejandro Nevarez, who recited words from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, said it was exciting to participate.
“He saved a lot of people with freedom,” Nevarez said, naming what he saw as the most important thing about King.
In his keynote speech, Eastern New Mexico University Professor of History Donald “Doc” Elder recalled the looks on the faces of his black high school classmates and teammates when they learned King had been assassinated.
“And I recognized at that point that I didn’t get it,” he said, so he began studying King’s life.
When King was killed, Elder said, he was in Memphis supporting black sanitation workers striking because they received less pay than their white counterparts. He was planning another march on Washington on the subject of poverty among all races, Elder said.
Before his Memphis trip, Elder continued, King visited Chicago to protest restrictions in housing for black people.
“He was trying to show racism wasn’t a Southern thing; racism was an American thing,” Elder said.
King also spoke out against the Vietnam War.
We can look today and say King won, Elder said, but there are so many things we haven’t accomplished. King wanted to be remembered as someone who tried to help others and serve as a drum major for peace and righteousness, Elder said, and called his listeners to live the same way.
“Let us walk away from here today resolved that we will try to carry out the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.,” Elder said.
Geni Flores of Portales said she thought the celebration of King’s legacy was appropriate and enjoyable.
“I appreciate that Portales continuously and consistently publicly celebrates this day,” she said.
Wendy Sharpe of Portales said the program was beautiful.
“It was just nice, and the Portales High School choir was just awesome,” she said.
The choir, Tia Urioste, Roderick Chambers and Yolanda Romero all sang during the celebration.
After the program, city Cultural Affairs Committee member Oscar Robinson, who helped plan the event, said he thought it went well. He said he hoped people took away the idea that “the legacy of King was a man who promoted faith, brotherhood and love for our country and that injustice of any sort is not justice.”