City leaders, first responders, and pastors from Church on the Move joined together on the steps of the Chaves County Courthouse Monday to show the Roswell community that Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream is far from forgotten.
The annual event, called “Eracism” demonstrated for the seventh year the importance of unity and standing against racism.
Pastor of perception
Troy Smothermon, pastor of Church on the Move, began the event, saying Roswell needs a new perception.
“Jesus said a house divided will not stand,” Smothermon said. “We can’t be a house that is divided. We have to have a vision to unite our community.
“I drive through the city of Hobbs and I see 26 million dollar civic centers being built. I see the populations around us from Clovis to Artesia building and prospering, and right here, I think the best city among them is the city of Roswell.”
Smothermon, who has resided in Roswell for 17 years, said he no longer wants to focus on the potential of his city, but rather, act.
“It’s time that potential starts uniting us for a cause,” he said. “I think it is time we say we are one city and one town. The quality of life — we raise the quality of life here. And if we are not going to be divided by white and brown, black and brown, black and white — we can unite together.”
Smothermon, whose vision includes solidarity within the Roswell Independent School District, recalled a time where he attempted to bring school and city officials together.
“It went nowhere, not because of the leaders of our city, but because of our administration and our school board. They did not want to unite — they did not want to stand together,” Smothermon said. “We have some excellent teachers and administrators here. They are waiting for us to stand together to unite this community and we are going to give a better quality of life for our children.”
Smothermon said the community has to have a heart like Dr. King.
“He gave his life for a cause greater than his,” he said. “We are not trying to recreate the ‘60s and ‘70s here — we can’t recreate those moments. They had their time. This is our time.
“We are not going to be victims of racism, poverty, or lack or anything else that happens in this community or our state. We are going to be what Dr. King called us to be. We are going to be — more importantly — someone greater than Dr. King, who Jesus called us to be.”
As Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh spoke next, he shared something close to his heart.
“What we are here for and what we are going to talk about and try and stop is a symptom,” Kintigh said. “Racism and other ‘isms’ are symptoms of a greater and deeper evil.
“That evil is the failure to realize each and every one is a unique, wonderful creation by God — that each person by themselves is to be valued. “
Kintigh said every person is striving for something, and as a result, are to be respected regardless of one’s appearance or point of view.
“We are not going to agree on everything,” Kintigh said. “Trust me, I have City Council with 10 people — I know this.
“We are not going to agree on everything, but that inability to agree can’t become an excuse for hate.”
Policing with trust
Roswell Police Department Chief Phil Smith said he was honored to speak before members of the Roswell community.
“Having this day, and having us speak about this tells you that Dr. King was successful,” Smith said. “This is what he wanted us to do — he wanted us to recognize there’s an issue — it needs to be addressed, and we’re all better as we work for it.”
The chief of police said the RPD bases most of their interactions on the three C’s — character, confidence and caring.
“First of all, all we see and all we want is character. We don’t see color, religion — favorite football teams, the crowd laughed. “I want you to understand that our mission is caring —we care.
“We base everything we do on taking care of victims, reducing victimization and improving the quality of life here in our community — our entire community.”
Smith took a moment to explain diversity.
“Diversity is an idea where you want to remove inequality, discrimination, and racism. But it goes a little deeper than that, especially with our police department,” he said. “Our PD diversity is, we not only protect and serve, but we drive to get trust, to enlist cooperation
“We want to not just protect and serve — we want to represent.”
Smith said in reference to heightened racial tensions in Sanford, Florida and Ferguson, Missouri, each city’s respective police departments were not reflective of the community.
“Hence, there was a field of distrust,” he said. “The Roswell Police Department has stepped up ahead of that — we went and brought in people from Milwaukee and Florida to train us in fair and impartial policing to make us aware of implicit bias, so we better serve our community.
“The fact that we’re starting to attract more of our local talent and is representative of our local talent shows you that this community trusts their police department.
“We at the Roswell Police Department will not stop at just telling you we care. We strive to show you we care.”
Putting out the evil
Roswell Fire Department Chief Devin Graham spoke next, saying in order to truly serve, firemen must be blind to color, race, ethnicity, gender or any other socioeconomic issue.
“Unfortunately, doing this job also provides some opportunity to peek behind the curtains, and see the tragedies that go on in our society and community,” Graham said. “Many times, this peek reveals evil from violence, abuse, neglect and often, a complete disregard for human life.”
Graham said evil too, does not discriminate.
“But, there’s an interesting part about this evil,” he said. “It’s the same evil that causes division, based on the factors of race, and ethnicity, and other characteristics that it’s allowed to divide because of it.”
The chief ended his speech by paraphrasing and reflecting upon 1 Peter 5:8.
“Our adversary, the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” Graham said. “It can only divide and devour if we allow him to. The evil he uses is only as powerful as the strength in the foothold we give him.
“This is why we must take a stand, and not allow division based on any factor.”
A legacy of education
Former ENMU-R Dean Bob Bowman described Dr. King as a man who was a minister, educator, and a nonviolent activist.
“Now I’ve spent 35 years in education and thanks to Dr. King, I feel that was part of his legacy to allow me to be educated and to do those things,” Bowman said. “Because before that, there was always discrimination and you know, ‘You’re not supposed to do this, you’re not supposed to do that.’”
Bowman spoke of a time when he was a senior in college and his counselor advised him join the military because he was not “cut out” for education, which he disregarded.
With a bachelor’s, two masters’, and experience as an administrator of a university, Bowman said he enjoys reminding his former counselor of his accomplishments.
“Once we become more educated, we learn to accept each other for who we are — not who we wish them to be,” Bowman said. “As I went through a lot of this, I looked up a lot of things about racism. As you Google this, it will actually tell us that racism would not be solved in this lifetime.
“You have to really think about it there. What are they saying? We’ve treated the symptom and now we have to treat the problem itself. No one is superior to another because of their skin color, religion, or gender.”
Bowman said society needs to realize everyone is striving for progress.
“I think the idea of getting our community together is one of those things that we should all work on and strive to get done for ourselves,” he said. “Education is a way out if we allow it to be.”
Savino Sanchez, pastor, and councilman, said seeing the community show up despite the frigid weather, shows what Roswell stands for.
“I stand here as representative of Roswell (and) America,” Sanchez said. “Even though some people don’t participate, we are the All-American City. We are here to honor and remember a man who left a legacy for us, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”
As Sanchez prepared for his own oration, the councilman said he had referred to Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
“I’ve come to realize as he spoke these words they weren’t just words,” Sanchez said. “They were heartfelt words that were inside of him crying out for justice.”
Sanchez also referred to 1 John 4:20.
“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates a fellow believer, that person is liar.’ For if we don’t love people we can see, how we can love God who we cannot see?” Sanchez said. “He has given us this command —those who love God, must also love their fellow believers.
“My question to you today, what is our dream for the city full of? Until our dream for the city is filled with passion, hope, justice, and with love, this city will not change until individuals change.
“We cannot give what is not on the inside of us. The words north, south, east, west — they are words of direction, but here these same words are what separates and divides the city.
How long Roswell? How long will stand by and allow racism to divide us and keep the city from achieving what God has in store for it? Ladies and gentlemen, I pray that this dream never dies.”
As the ceremony neared its end, Smothermon expressed his thanks to the speakers and audience members, offering a prayer of gratitude for Dr. King’s legacy.
Afterwards, the “Eracism” demonstration took to the streets.
Citizens of Roswell, armed with signs of scripture and quotes from Dr. King, lined both sides of Main Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.
“I think it is important that we not only rally here, but we let all our people on Main Street today — even visitors in the community see who we are and what we are about,” Smothermon said. “You are the change. We are the change.”
Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez and City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710.