While it has been 50 years since his passing, the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lives on today with students and faculty at the University of New Mexico.
On the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, UNM’s Africana, Chicana and Chicano and Native American Studies came together to hold a vigil honoring King. Students and community members of all ages gathered outside Mesa Vista Hall Wednesday afternoon to share stories and inspiration.
“The dream is still alive,” Rev. Charles Becknell, Sr. said to the crowd.
UNM President Garnett Stokes also spoke at the event.
“50 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was struck down in the prime of his life,” she said. “However, his words and deeds remain as relevant today as during his lifetime.”
King grew up in Georgia and eventually became a pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He quickly became an influential leader in the civil rights movement, participating in many protests and publicly speaking over 2,500 times. He gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speak at the March on Washington in 1963. He won Time Magazine’s Man of the Year and a Nobel Peace Prize. King was 39 when he was assassinated on a motel balcony while visiting Memphis, Tennessee, according to nobelprize.org.
“He was a phenomenal leader,” UNM student Schayelynn Henderson said. “He brought so much justice, not just for African-American communities, but for all minority groups, so I think it’s important to acknowledge his legacy.”
Director of Africana Studies Dr. Charles Becknell, Jr. said his program saw a need to do something for the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination. He said the program did not know exactly what they wanted to do, but he knew it needed to do something.
Becknell, Jr. said he reached out to Chicana and Chicano and Native American Studies to collaborate on an event. They started with an outdoor vigil, where students and faculty commemorated King, then the event moved indoors to the SUB Atrium where a panel of representatives spoke.
This 50th anniversary is special to him, because Africana Studies is also approaching its 50th anniversary, he said. The program is largely connected to the civil rights movement and King’s work.
Faculty took this event as an opportunity to advocate for all ethnic studies programs at UNM and discuss the issues they face.
“If it weren’t for riots and protests here, at UNM, we wouldn’t have ethnic studies,” Native American Studies student Hope Alvarado said.
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Ph.D. student Maria Lopez said she feels the minority voices on campus are often quieted, and events like this are important to have.
“For those of us who are interested in social change or social justice, Martin Luther King, Jr. is a major figure we look up to,” Lopez said.
Catherine Stringam is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @cathey_stringam.