Two Rio Rancho leaders answered questions about Martin Luther King Jr.’s message and its implications for today.

They are Barbara Jordan, a 43-year-old activist, and the Rio Rancho Governing Body’s newest member, Karissa Culbreath.

What would Dr. King have said if he’d seen the Jan. 6 event in D.C.?

Rio Rancho resident Barbara Jordan speaks at a protest to educate Rio Rancho about systemic racism. She said she was there fighting for her son’s rights. Photo by Amy Byres.

 Jordan: “I do not like to speculate on what Dr. King would have said or thought … (but) I am saddened at the thought that he would not have seen the equality that we so justly deserve, even if he had not been assassinated. The idea that if he lived a normal life, we would still be fighting for equality, even more so after the events we just witnessed on Jan. 6, breaks my heart.

Culbreath: The violence that occurred at the U.S. Capitol was a tragedy for Americans and for our great democracy. Jan. 6, 2021, will go down in our nation’s history as a devastating day. It’s hard to believe that just steps from the same place that once held the March On Washington and where Dr. King shared his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, we witnessed such violence and disregard for the Democracy that so many have fought for and given their lives for.

Could MLK’s message and style make a difference in the 21st century?

Jordan: Dr. King gave over 2,500 speeches and, yes, I do believe his message and his style would still make a difference today in the 21st century. When you have been given the gift of leadership, you never lose that. I know that as we remember and respect him today, many would still stand by to listen and follow his direction on our road to freedom and justice. Unfortunately, a lot of what he said during his short time with us here on Earth is still relevant today: We have had evolutions of racism, but not the changes needed so that this America can be a home for Black people, too.

Karissa Culbreath

 Culbreath: Dr. King is undoubtedly one of the most influential people in our country’s history. Dr. King, along with countless other civil right heroes, altered the course of race relations and equality in our nation. Through love and empathy, Dr. King devoted his life to serving and leading others against societal injustices. For over half a century, Dr. King’s sermons, speeches, passion, and actions in the name of equality and freedom continue to inspire the world. His spirit and beliefs live on and are honored today and every day.

Are you optimistic about the future with the new Biden Administration?

Jordan: I am cautiously optimistic. The thing that makes me optimistic is actually hearing racial justice issues brought up in the debates prior to the election. I am ready to move forward with my legislative agenda for the new administration. I will not back down and I will never stop until the police stop murdering us for just existing, until we can breathe and until we can live. Until our Declaration of Independence stands as a true symbol of our democracy, not just on paper but a living example of what that is, that we are ALL created equal.

Do you feel safe out and about in Rio Rancho? Is the city safe for Blacks today?

Jordan: When I am asked this question, my mind always goes back to the peaceful protest we had on Sept. 12, 2020. I remember people yelling for me to get out of their city, talking amongst themselves how they should slash our tires so we (the peaceful protestors who were there registering people to vote and having members complete their Census) couldn’t go anywhere and, no, so I do not feel safe in Rio Rancho. I feel it is safe if you happen to be a Black person who has been ‘accepted’ by the white community, but not for me. One of the things I often say is, if I am a resident or Rio Rancho and I’m uncomfortable, then everyone ought to be uncomfortable — and I’m uncomfortable. … what I often say is that we must remember that those same people who threatened to do bodily harm to me are educators, insurance agents, medical care providers, realtors, attorneys, police officers, etc., who are in a position of power to maintain white supremacy and the oppression of Black people. This is the problem and it MUST be addressed.

Culbreath: Rio Rancho is a city that I am proud to call home and raise my family. In my new role on the city council, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve the citizens of Rio Rancho. I doing so, I will do my part to ensure that everyone feels welcome and safe in the city.

Do you think naming a street in Rio Rancho for MLK can be achieved?

Jordan: I think not only can it happen, it should happen. It is long overdue and I would be more than happy to add this on my agenda for our city in my fight for equality. I have seen a consistent tactic of ignoring racism here in Rio Rancho as if we are some ideal city/safe haven for white people. Rio Rancho needs to do more to embrace diversity on all fronts, not only with Black people but with indigenous, and all people of color.

Culbreath: In my very short time on city council, nothing formal has been presented to me. If something were to be brought before the governing body, in accordance with city ordinances, it would need to be considered by staff, our elected officials and Rio Rancho citizens directly impacted by such a proposal.

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer