Albuquerque commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day by participating in a parade on Jan. 13 held by the Dr. MLK Jr. New Mexico Commission in honor of the 50th year anniversary of his passing.
The parade began around 11 a.m. at the end of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue near the University of New Mexico and ended at Civic Plaza in Downtown Albuquerque.
Throughout the walk, participants and groups held signs in solidarity with the cause. Some of the signs read, “Challenge Systemic Racism, Poverty, War Economy, Ecological Devastation,” “Thou Shalt Not Stand Idly By,” or other phrases. Some signs featured visuals of the late King.
Groups affiliated with UNM and the greater Albuquerque community were represented, such as Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Alumnae, the Alpha Phi Lambda Fraternity Alumnus, the Albuquerque chapter of the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People and many other organizations that stood for equality for citizens of color.
Dr. MLK Jr. Ave. was closed to traffic for this event. Throughout the walk, as a safety measure, a police escort guided the participants while blocking off intersecting traffic. The walk was followed by drum lines from various high schools around Albuquerque, and The Red Cross handed out water bottles for walkers.
One of the participants was Dante Smith, a father of a UNM graduate student, and was representing the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity UNM Chapter. Smith said he has lived in Albuquerque for over 30 years and grew up in what is called “the war zone” where he said he saw a lot of injustices compared to other parts of the city.
“(It means a lot) to be able to come out and show the real differences in New Mexico and in the United States so that we can come together not as a color, but as people in unison and harmony,” Smith said. “I am constantly trying to work with the youth and get different programs (in low-income neighborhoods) so that they don’t become a victim of their environment.”
When the march reached Civic Plaza, presenters and speakers organized while waiting for the crowd to file into the rows of seats set up for the audience.
Speakers included Mayor Tim Keller, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Dr. Jennifer Gomez-Chavez of UNM’s Division of Equity and Inclusion.
“All too often we get caught up in listening to doubters, the naysayers, the people who are all too concerned about their own agendas who are sowing seeds of division into our community, and in effect, holding us hostage when it comes to making our city a better place,” Keller said.
Keller said King’s feats and his work to create equity in society inspired Keller’s effort to bring equality to Albuquerque.
“It is his true legacy that is now our responsibilities,” Keller said. “Together here in our city, we will stand up against division, we will stand up against racism and we will stand up against the hate that is circling around in our country.”
Chavez said that her personal background as a first-generation Mexican-American and the instances of racism that she has experienced shaped the way she approached the change that needed to be made in society and at UNM.
“I come to you as a proud member of the University of New Mexico where I work for the Division of Equity and Inclusion...where the goal is to ensure that we are creating a healthy and welcoming climate for our students, staff, faculty and community members,” she said.
Chavez said she is proud that she works for the OEI, which is the only department of its kind in the state of New Mexico.
“My hope, such as Dr. King’s vision and goal, is that we create equal access to an education for all students and their families so that we can begin to transform systems into ones that have a more inclusive perspective with respect and compassion for a growing, diverse population,” Chavez said.
In terms of diversity in New Mexico, she said that the underrepresentation of people of color is present throughout communities.
“New Mexico is the most diverse state in the U.S., and without a doubt we are contributing to the influence and diverse workforce,” Chavez said. “However, our educational statistics continue to alarm us that our underrepresented students remain to have lower educational attainment rates.”
Moving forward, society has made great progress, which should not slow down, Chavez said. Leaders of organizations across the country are severely underrepresented by culturally diverse individuals, she said.
This event was one of many that took place throughout the country. The Dr. MLK Jr. New Mexico Commission said the group planned to celebrate the holiday over the weekend throughout the state in the form of rallies, music performances and luncheons.
Rebecca Brusseau is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers the LGBTQ community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @r_brusseau.