Annual MLK vigil will include a candlelight procession

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A Belen organization dedicated to honoring the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebrates its own birthday along with the Nobel Peace Prize winner.

This year marks the Belen Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Commission's 20th anniversary.

The commission will host its 20th annual candlelight vigil on Monday, Jan. 21 — a federal holiday in honor of King's birthday month.

"The reason, without fail, that we do it every year, rain, snow or sleet, is because that's our contribution in Belen, and that's what we do to try to get this message (of using nonviolence) out," said Geneva Nixon, former commission chairwoman.

King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for combating racial inequality through nonviolent activities in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

The vigil will begin with a candlelight procession on "the bridge to equality" on top of the Reinken Avenue overpass, where residents will walk two blocks to Anna Becker Park holding battery-powered candles, lanterns or flashlights.

The walk will be led by a drummer while participants sing the Civil Rights Movement anthem, "We Shall Overcome."

The candlelight procession, beginning at 5:45 p.m., pays tribute to first responders, as well as past commission members, said Serena Douglas, the commission's acting chairwoman.

Once at the park, participants pledge to fill their year with acts of nonviolence at the candlelight vigil, which begins at 6 p.m.

"Everyone in attendance can pledge to another year in handling every day situations in a nonviolent manner and appreciate and understand diversity in our community," Douglas said.

The commission incorporates Belen children into the vigil to teach them what King accomplished and how to incorporate his ideals into their lives.

This is done through the MLK poster and essay contests, where Belen students describe how they use King's ideals to handle every day situations, or how King's legacy has affected their life.

"We feels that's where the learning and appreciation of diversity and stopping violence begins," Douglas said.

"If we can continue to plant these ideals in the minds of children then when they grow up they have the tools to look at other ways to deal with situations rather than to get into a fight or draw a knife or a gun," Nixon added

The Belen Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Commission began when former Belen Mayor Richard Aragon received a letter from the chairman of the state commission asking New Mexico communities "to demonstrate their commitment to the values represented by Dr. King by honoring him through the year and especially on his birthday," Douglas said.

"The purpose behind establishing a commission was to support and commemorate the ideals that were outlined in Dr. King's 'I have a dream speech,'" Nixon said.

A month after receiving that letter, in December 1992, Aragon appointed 14 members to the commission.

The motto of the Belen commission became "Living the dream; Let freedom ring; Building bridges for unity and understanding."

The commission held its first candlelight vigil in Anna Becker Park in January 1993.

"When we put our mission together, we decided we wanted to be much more than a candlelight vigil," Douglas said. "We wanted to make an impact on the community, and we wanted people to realize that we need to understand and appreciate each other."

Throughout its 20 years in existence, the commission has held teas welcoming exchange students to the area, presented residents with Random Acts of Kindness Awards, held Community Days to celebrate the community's diversity and awarded college scholarships to high school students.

The commission also publishes a monthly article in the News-Bulletin focusing on the lives of individuals who use King's nonviolent tactics to improve society.

Since the commission's inception, they presented Belen city councilors with a resolution honoring Cesar Chavez for his nonviolent methods to improve working conditions for migrant workers in the United States. That resolution was approved May 1993.

They also encouraged legislatures, through letters, to pass a law for a legal holiday commemorating Chavez's work. The New Mexico Legislature designated March 31 as Chavez's holiday.

"As long as there are people who feel that they can make a contribution helping the society become better and better, I think an organization, like the Belen commission, will be around," Nixon said.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.