Home News Local News Locals observe MLK Day with annual Eracism Rally

Locals observe MLK Day with annual Eracism Rally

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Robert Bowman, retired Dean at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell, stands on the steps of the Chaves County Courthouse Monday, one of several speakers at the 8th annual Eracism Rally organized by Church on the Move. (Alex Ross Photo)

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Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his vision of a world free of racial hatred, area residents and community leaders converged on the Chaves County Courthouse lawn for the eighth annual Eracism Rally.

People stand holding signs along Main Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets Monday during the 8th annual Eracism Rally organized by Church on the Move. (Alex Ross Photo)

The hour-long rally organized by Church on the Move consisted of speeches by local elected officials and religious leaders, prayer and a barbecue lunch. Attendees afterwards lined up along Main Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets brandishing signs emblazoned with quotes by King, a display that passing traffic reacted to with honks of approval.

Two students from area high schools were each awarded a $500 scholarship from Church on the Move after writing essays about how King’s dream influenced them.

Congress passed and President Ronald Reagan in 1983 signed legislation that established the third Monday of January as Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federal holiday. Had he lived, King would have turned 90 years old Jan. 15.

Many speakers at the event said King’s message of a world of racial harmony is one that is still relevant and deeply intertwined with principles outlined in the Bible. Savino Sanchez, a Roswell city councilor and associate pastor at Church on the Move, referenced King’s 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech.

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“‘I have a dream, I have a dream,’ these are the words that echoed throughout the world in a time of chaos and confusion, but these were not mere words that were articulated, they cried inside a man of God,” he said.

“Reverend King had a dream that his children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of our character, shouldn’t that be our dream too?” Sanchez continued.

Devin Graham, chief of the Roswell Fire Department, also spoke. He said that he recently read an article about a conversation that King had with actor Harry Belafonte in 1968, shortly before King’s death.

He said that King told Belafonte he was confident society would ultimately be integrated, but he was worried that America might have lost its moral vision, and that he might be integrating America into a burning house.

Graham added that King then told Belafonte that to combat this danger, advocates of integration and civil rights must take a stand and be the firemen seeking to extinguish that fire.

Although the burning house King spoke of 51 years ago might not be as fully engulfed as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, Graham said that house is still enveloped in fire. After a fire is put out, firefighters typically engage in an activity known as salvage and overhaul, to ensure there are no hot spots left smoldering that could reignite a structure, Graham said.

“I liken that to what we are called to do here today,” he said. “It is our duty to not only ensure the embers of prejudice and racism do not reignite into a free-burning fire, but to stomp it out completely,” he said.

Sheriff Mike Herrington also spoke. He said that as a Chaves County Deputy for 22 years, he saw how Roswell and surrounding communities have a history of coming together to bridge divides between race, religion, culture and economic status, especially in hard times.

He recalled how people have come together in trying times, such as in the wake of the Berrendo Middle School shooting in 2014 and the snowstorm known as Goliath that struck Roswell in 2015.

“I have been here a long time, and I have seen we have the ability to get along,” he said.

Church on the Move Senior Pastor Troy Smothermon said great strides have been made in combating the corrosive effects of racism and prejudice, work that is sometimes overlooked. Nonetheless, he said there is still more work that needs to be done to confront racism and bridge the divides of racism, including in churches.

Though crowds seem to grow each year at the Eracism Rally, Smothermon said each year pastors from other churches are invited to speak at the Eracism rally, but usually don’t attend.

He added that most churches continue to be made up of “85 or 90 percent one color,” something that he said makes Sunday the most segregated day of the week.

People can go a long way in combating racial prejudice by confronting it in their daily lives when they see it, and teaching the next generation of young people about King’s vision of a better world.

“We might not be able to impact the whole nation, but you can impact your family,” Smothermon said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.