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Reflections on MLK’s life and legacy

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Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Martin Luther King Jr. was kicked, beaten and jailed for the color of his skin. His response to the horrors happening to him was to answer his critics with love, not hate. King refused to give into hatred, or think of himself as inferior because of the color of his skin. King’s response was to lift the lives of Americans and African Americans to a higher level to receive their civil rights.

For every mountaintop moment lived out, such as the March on Washington, Aug. 28, 1963, King’s iconic “I Have a Dream,” there were moments lived in the valleys. For many minorities, the scars of discrimination are long-lasting and deep. They know what it is like to have been shunned for opportunities and to have doors closed that affected their growth and lifestyle. They know there is a debt to be paid for the ancestors that have walked before African Americans today.

“We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline,” King said. His life made things better for African Americans. Minorities are able to live in decent houses where they want to, vote, stay at motels, travel first-class, go to college, and have the career they desire. They are able to live and enjoy the constitutional rights our forefathers imagined when they drafted the Constitution.

The progress African Americans have made since King’s dream might have eclipsed his imagination. He paved the road to America electing its first African American president in Barack Obama as the 44th president, for not just one term, but two terms.

King’s fight was not just for African Americans, but for the disenfranchised, the poor, and all people that lacked opportunity — because of education, class or status — to be able to live a normal life. Many of the things King was fighting against during his lifetime are still being fought against today, such as incidents of police brutality like those witnessed in recent years in the U.S., involving George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Eric Garner, among others. “We can never be satisfied,” King said, “as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

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King would have been 92 on Monday. At a national, state and local level, people are reflecting on how King’s life has affected Americans from all races and walks of life.

Martin Heinrich,

U.S. Senator (D-NM)

“It would be all too easy to let the violent attacks and dangerous threats against our democracy dominate all of our thoughts,” Heinrich said. “On this Martin Luther King (Jr.) Day, however, I would urge us to pause for a moment to reflect on the continuing resonance of Dr. King’s sacrifice and service to our nation. We should remember that his lasting example continues to inspire countless Americans to this day.”

James Edwards,

Roswell Independent School District

board member

James Edwards went to school at Roswell and Goddard high schools, and then graduated at Highlands University. Edwards has seen and been a part of a change in Roswell, becoming the first African American to win an election to the RISD board.

“What Dr. King’s legacy means to me,” Edwards said, “to treat others as I would want to be treated. I think it’s important to understand that his main goal was to give voting rights for everybody. A lot of people think it was for African Americans, but it was for everybody.”

Edwards noted that King brought a lot of races together. His marches were about peace and being treated fairly. Edwards said he thinks King was knocking down walls that had been up for centuries. King won a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to bring peace to the world.

“I’m the first African American school board member in Roswell,” Edwards said. “It’s an important position for me because I represent everybody. I’m here to help people not hurt people.”

The thing Edwards tries to emulate from King’s speech: To judge people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.

“If King were alive today,” Edwards said, “his heart would be broken, and he’d be crying. We’ve come so far, but we have become so complacent, especially our minorities. I think King would be sad because the country has been torn apart. I think he’d (King) be sad because people don’t have dialogue. We’ve made progress in the ’60s but we’re going backward.”

Edwards said he believes the key to race relations going forward is there needs to be more unifiers than dividers. He said people can accomplish more by being united. Edwards also said he thinks it’s OK to disagree.

“We can agree to disagree,” Edwards said. “Just because we disagree today, I’m not going to hate you. I was taught to love your brother and fellow man. We’ve come a long way; I can remember people going through the back doors. Until a man’s walked in my shoes, you don’t know where I’ve been or where I’m going.”

Edwards said he believes the fighting and cliques need to stop. He said state leaders and community leaders need to come together, along with national leaders and work together.

Jason Perry,

Ward 2 City Council

“On this Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I will be reminding my children there was once a day when the right to be considered a human being wasn’t offered to all of God’s children. I’m reminded of Dr. King’s words, ‘I have decided to stick with love, hate is too great a burden to bear.’

“We will be thanking the Lord for victories made and loving all people and pray for a greater impulse of loving our neighbors to come forth in 2021.”

Angela Moore,

Ward 5 City Council,

second African

American to serve

on the council

“My thoughts are, I want to do something for the community,” Moore said. “Not that we have a day off, but it should be a day on. My mantra is that we should be on helping the community. We should be on the homeless, helping people to vote and to enjoy the freedoms we have.”

Moore said African Americans don’t understand the plight our ancestors had to go through to get where we are today. She said African Americans are not in a great place.

“We’ve come so far,” Moore said, “but I think we are stagnant. His day means a chance to help and a chance to give back. We need to stop thinking about ourselves because King was about helping other people.”

Moore said there are still a lot of injustices going on. She has taught her son, DonTrell Moore, not to let being black hold him back; that being black should serve as a catalyst in his life to achieving his goals and dreams, and not be an excuse.

“I think Martin Luther King Jr. would be appalled,” Moore said. “He wouldn’t be happy with the plight of the country right now. All this work he went through, and we are two steps or maybe even back further. We’re not free. African American men are not safe walking the streets as black men.”

Moore said she believes King would be OK with the Black Lives Matter movement because, she said, it is a peaceful protest.

Ruben Bolaños,

director of STEM and Technical Education, RISD

“When I think of Martin Luther King (Jr.) and during those times,” Bolaños said, “I think of him using his leadership skill to bring unity instead of division. I can’t imagine the hardships the people of color and minorities lived through in those times. When I was principal at Roswell, I tried to help students and parents that had inequities and I tried to address their issues.”

Roswell Mayor

Dennis Kintigh

Kintigh noted the Roswell Police Department has had Black police officers for a long time. He recounted there was a Black sergeant on the force 30 years ago when he arrived in town.

“The legacy is summed up by judging people by the content of their character,” Kintigh said. “That concept is profoundly important and even more important in today’s political environment.”

Kintigh noted the Roswell City Council, besides being the largest in the state, is the most diverse.

“We have four females,” he said. “One is African American. One is Hispanic. One is Jewish, and one is Anglo, who happens to be a single mother. We have five Hispanics on this council and two white males, but arguably one of the two is the most fluent Spanish speaker on the entire council. I can’t think of a more complex and diverse group.”

Pilar Carrasco, Roswell High School principal

For Carrasco, the “I Have a Dream” speech is huge. He said there are other keywords and phrases that are just as meaningful and spoken with such eloquence that people have missed them and don’t pay attention.

“There are very few people that rise above time,” Carrasco said. “King rises above historically significant events that occurred not only in United States history but global history. The thing I love about Martin Luther King Jr. is his process that you could have a loud voice without actions of violence or actions that will harm other people or yourself. He has to be the best orator, and he was great at building relationships and was the ultimate teacher.”

Carrasco said the way King was able to unite people and motivate them to act is a lesson in leadership. For Carrasco, King was the ultimate figure in light overcoming darkness. Carrasco tries to uphold King’s light and what he stood for by the way he lives his life.

Rick Kraft, attorney

Kraft lists King as one of his heroes. Kraft gave the keynote address in 2008 for the ninth annual commemorative Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast held at the civic center. His speech was titled, “A drum major for justice.”

“The way he brought about change in our country,” Kraft said, “it was a peaceful means of protesting and striving for racial equality. Through his leadership, King changed the direction of our country. From 1955-68, to expose the injustices and lead the cause and do it without violence makes him a hero to me.”

Kraft said he believes the cause chose King, he didn’t choose the cause. King made the cause more important than himself. He knew that he wouldn’t live to see old age and yet put the cause ahead of himself.

“I think he would be proud of those raising awareness for racial injustice, which is unacceptable,” Kraft said. “I think he would be disappointed in the violence which has been part of the cause. I don’t think he would accept that.”

Kraft noted that Caucasian people were involved in the movement as well. The movement was about people trying to change America.

As far as race relations today, Kraft says we are making improvements but we have a long way to go. Kraft said it has been embedded throughout our history and we need to focus on avoiding racial injustice.

Kraft noted, “We have to constantly see past the skin color and see what is on the inside. Every culture has the same issue, there is always some kind of a class system, we have to try and overcome that.”

Rudolph Hunter, teacher associate at Mesa Middle School

For Rudy Hunter, growing up on the east side of Roswell meant playing for the Little League teams and schools in Roswell. Back then, Black history or the Black civil rights movement wasn’t a priority in this area, he said.

There were limited opportunities after high school. For the local Black athletes that weren’t good enough to go to college, they were encouraged to join the armed forces. If that was not their thing, Blacks had to find labor as a trade. Sadly, some of the athletes ended up in the penal system.

Hunter said he believes there was systemic racism in Roswell at the time. He felt it was subtle, and looking back on various actions by the system, a person wouldn’t realize the discrimination until after they went to college.

“What Martin Luther King (Jr.) Day means to people of color is having opportunities in the United States,” Hunter said. “It meant Black athletes could get an athletic scholarship. Not every Black athlete was able to take advantage of the scholarships. The athletes who desired a better life than living in poverty jumped at the chance to get a college education and better themselves.”

Rayfield Jefferson, pastor and faculty member of University Heights School

For Jefferson, he often thinks about Dr. King’s legacy in these troubling times. Growing up in Houston, Texas, in the ’60s, he questions how far African Americans have really come. Jefferson has been able to go to college at Sam Houston State University on a scholarship and earned a graduate degree at California State University. Jefferson went on to have a successful career as a teacher and school administrator before retiring. Jefferson said he oftentimes thinks about what this world will be like in the future.

“In many ways, it seems like déjà vous, some of the stuff I went through in the ’60s,” Jefferson said. “It makes one wonder in all these years since Dr. King, how far have we really gone, as far as Dr. King’s life, I just think, looking at us today. Beyond the strides that were made, was it really worth his life?”

Dennis Montanez,

assistant principal of Early College and

University High schools

“Martin Luther King Jr. impacted me personally by bringing much-needed attention to the civil rights movement and the injustices many Americans are still living with today,” Montanez said.