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Some Roswell residents plan to gather Monday to honor one of the country’s most influential historical leaders while a local church organizes “acts of kindness” in the community.
A tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. and a discussion of his life’s work will take place Monday at Eastern New Mexico University’s campus in Roswell, the federal holiday honoring the civil rights leader and minister who prompted many to rethink their attitudes toward equality and social justice for Black people, the treatment of the poor and less powerful, and the ways in which social change can be effected through nonviolent means.
“We encourage all students and children to attend,” said event organizer James Edwards. “We don’t teach enough about the great leaders of the past.”
Chaves County public schools and most government offices are closed for the day.
Edwards is a Student Advisor at ENMU-Roswell and a member of the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. He is also an elected member of the Board of Education for the Roswell Independent School District.
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The ENMU-R public event will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. in the common meeting area of the Instructional Technology Center, 23 W. Mathis St.
This is the third year the school has hosted an event, with last year’s commemoration being offered online due to COVID-19 mass gathering restrictions. This year’s event will employ COVID-safe practices, Edwards said, including social distancing and a face mask requirement.
Edwards said he wants people to realize the day is a chance to remember a leader who helped many people.
“Often when you want to talk about Martin Luther King, people think of it as a black day,” Edwards said, “and it’s not. It’s an all inclusive day. He represented women – black, brown, white – the poor, the impoverished. If you read his story, he had an impact on quite a few different people.”
According to Edwards, the event will begin with a welcome from ENMU-Roswell President Shawn Powell and will include a prayer led by Pastor Artis Allen of Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church.
Roswell High School ninth grader La Dayjha McDonald will read, among other speeches and writings, some quotes from King, known for his “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered during a march in Washington, DC in August 1963 has. He is widely regarded as one of the most gifted orators and writers of the 20th century.
Pastor Richard Gorham of Ware Tabernacle Baptist Church will also give a presentation.
“Pastor Gorham will speak about the impact that Martin Luther King had on his life and then speak a little bit about Martin Luther King’s life,” Edwards said.
The event will also include a video with some photos and memories. Refreshments are also planned.
Church on the Move also plans activities for the day. In the past she has organized an Eracism community prayer and speaking event at the Chaves County Courthouse.
This year, volunteers will be out and about in the church doing “good deeds” and giving away hundreds of “Erase the Line” T-shirts, Executive Associate Pastor Shawn Kelly said.
“God didn’t draw that dividing line between people,” Kelly said, “so we’re working to just get rid of the dividing lines.”
He said volunteers would help people tidy up their belongings, buy lunch or food for the people, or do other acts of kindness aimed at expressing love for others, as demonstrated by Jesus, whose words and work are an example for Martin Luther were king jr.
He said others in the community are encouraged to also participate and post their acts of kindness on social media using the hashtag “erasetheline.”
A representative for the New Mexico MLK State Commission said the group is only coordinating virtual events this year because of the spike in COVID cases in New Mexico in recent weeks. Beverly Jordan explained that a march and free screening of the documentary American Promise planned for the federal holiday will take place towards the end of February instead.
The federal holiday commemorates King’s birthday on January 15, 1929. He became a Baptist minister in 1954 while earning his doctorate in theology. At the time, he was a senior member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, leading to his becoming the most prominent US civil rights activist of the time, campaigning among other things for desegregation and antidiscrimination policies. Among his many honors was the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. On April 4, 1968, he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, before marching in sympathy with the city’s sanitation workers who were striking for higher wages and better working conditions.