Voting rights is a much-contended and timely topic today, and it was just as relevant Monday in a Martin Luther King Jr. Day program sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of New Mexico, with Rev. Charles Becknell Sr. of Rio Rancho organizing the program.

Randal Gaines
Courtesy photo

“The Dream Lives” was the theme, and Louisiana attorney and state Rep. Randal Gaines was the featured speaker on the Zoom webinar.

“I’m honored to call him a friend,” lauded Becknell in his introduction for Gaines.

Gaines began by praising New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for her “pushing to advocate New Mexico’s own voting rights act,” important to establish “justice and truth.”

Everyone – not just Black people, Gaines said – should stand against any type of voting rights infringement.

“Apathy is never an option,” he declared.

Gaines covered the history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which he said has been “extended by Congress five times, the last in 2006,” with the U.S. Supreme Court declaring it “no longer applicable” and “outdated” in 2013.

That in effect, Gaines said, results in people “confusing political progress with equality.”

He added, “Voting rights present more risks than which political party is in charge” and more danger than “threats that racism presents to our progress.”

The ultimate Voting Rights Act should be a “safeguard to prevent damaging legislation being passed,” Gaines added, not “a plan to disenfranchise Black voters.”

It’s important for Congress to “act with urgency and act with urgency now,” he said, only asking for “fair, free and (an) accessible right to vote. … The future of democracy depends on it” and surely will help keep Dr. King’s dream is alive.

Near the end of the program, Becknell announced the five University of New Mexico students receiving $500 scholarship awards, made possible by Corley’s Albuquerque Lincoln-Volvo: Danielle Bell, Christopher Choice, Monet Hubbard, Angel McCown and Peter Mwangi, each of whom plans to someday serve minorities and under-privileged people in their careers.

Becknell also said $500 will be given to the New Mexico Black Lawyers Association, in memory of his late younger brother Raymond Hamilton, to award to a deserving student.

Although $500 may seem a small sum to be awarded, Becknell said, “That $500 can make a difference in the life of a student who is struggling.”