Local residents of all races, backgrounds, and generations gathered outside the Portales Memorial Building Monday to march in celebration of the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., a tradition Portales has participated for over 20 years.
The event was sponsored by the City of Portales Cultural Affairs Committee, Eastern New Mexico University, and the New Mexico State Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.
The event kicked off with the reading of the presidential proclamation by Cultural Affairs chair and emcee Oscar Robinson, who also presented chairman awards later in the evening. Afterward, the Cannon Air Force Base Honor Guard lead participants in a mile-long march from the Memorial Building to the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial tree at the Eastern New Mexico University campus.
“I grew up in a non-civil rights community,” said Robinson. “His process led to the civil rights activities that we are witnessing today.”
Robinson said that because of the university and public-school system, Portales has cultivated a community in which all members share mutual respect.
“This community is what Dr. Martin Luther King was talking about … that people would be valued and judged by the content of their character.”
Food and refreshments followed at the Campus Union Building at ENMU, which included a speech by keynote speaker David Briseno who encouraged his audience to stand up for truth and justice. Following the speech were performances by Dance Studio Extreme, the Portales High School Choir, and ENMU student O’Shaun Estrada, who sang “Amazing Grace.”
Jeff Long, ENMU vice president of Student Affairs, said the celebration was a reminder that there are still steps the United States must take in order to fully reach equality.
“It’s unfortunate we only do these things periodically and don’t work at it every day, but it’s a nice reminder of the things that need to still be done,” he said. “Hopefully, this will spur [the students] to think about what was going on and the reasons why we have these kinds of celebrations and events – so that they understand that they have a role to play in trying to solve that problem and address those issues.”
Many ENMU students marched alongside ENMU faculty in the celebration.
“We had a really great turnout,” said ENMU Assistant Athletic Director Melissa Lee. “I think it shows that all of our kids understand what it means and how big of an event it is.”
“It means a lot to Portales,” said Veda Urioste, Portales deputy city clerk. “We like to see the whole community come out and celebrate together as one.”