Wednesday’s Sandoval County Commission meeting featured a proclamation declaring February as Black History Month and a moving presentation from Rio Rancho native Bishop David C. Cooper, the senior pastor of New Hope Full Gospel Baptist Church in Albuquerque.

District 5 Commissioner Joshua Jones sponsored the presentation and introduced Cooper to the commission and the dozens in attendance at the meeting.

“We always talk about the past of what Black History Month means, but I’d like to address and highlight a few folks in the present,” Jones said. “I’m not sure if people are aware or not, and I like to throw it out there no matter where you land, party wise, Senator Harold Pope is our very first elected African American to New Mexico State Senate. And then we also have someone here locally, Dr. Karissa Culbreath, who is the first African American elected to Rio Rancho city council. So we have a lot of leadership within the African American community, and great things that are happening today in our president, and what I’d like to do is bring up Bishop Cooper and award him this proclamation.”

Jones praised Cooper as a leader in the community and ran through his long list of achievements and accomplishments.

Cooper has spent more than 30 years in ministry and began preaching at the age of 16. He assumed the pastorate of his first church in Chicago at the age of 21. Licensed and ordained at a young age, Cooper’s ministry impact has spanned throughout the United States, the Bahamas and Europe.

“I’m not sure how many of us are sitting here today. But when I was 21, I was still trying to figure out life and what I was going to do while serving our country,” Jones said. “So Bishop Cooper was well on his way to being a great leader. Bishop Cooper has successfully transitioned the church into a ministry that disciplines souls for Christ, while also building leaders and meeting the needs of the community. And that’s just a little taste of the man that Bishop Cooper, his leadership and his dedication to the community.”

Cooper, who has lived in Rio Rancho for nearly 10 years after moving from Chicago, spoke passionately for nearly 10 minutes about what Black history is and why it’s important.

“Many times when we think of Black history, we think about Martin Luther King, but he’s just one of many,” Cooper said. “I wouldn’t take your time to name all of the people who have a significant contribution to our great country. And I think in a heightened awareness of what has happened in Memphis, and what has happened in our country, the need to come together to understand that each person has value, each culture has something to contribute, and especially a culture, much like the native culture, who have experienced some series of violent actions throughout their history.

“I think that every community is at the crossroad of making a decision about how do we handle this whole messy situation that we have entered into where we are now lacking respect for one another, common decency for one another. And on top of that, the racial tension that is prevalent in our society, every county, every city, every hamlet, every state, must come together, and recognize that we must do something to value every community.”

District 2 Commissioner Jay Block then thanked Cooper for sharing and shared a favorite quote of his from Jackie Robinson, who became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947. Block said he kept a paper with this quote from Robinson in his shadow box when he retired from the Air Force: “There’s nothing more important in life except in the impact it has on other lives.”

“I think you touched on it perfectly when you said we need to have more respect in this country because right now this country is not united at all,” Block said. “I think race relations today, Bishop, are worse today then they were in the 1960s. What we saw in Memphis with Tyre Nichols was disgusting. I’ve been having a hard time even processing that. It doesn’t matter if it was five or six Black officers; they killed a 6-foot-3 kid who weighed 140 pounds who did nothing.”

Sapien

The meeting got off to a somber start as District 1 Commissioner Katherine Bruch spoke about the recent death of former Sandoval County Commissioner Bill Sapien.

The 86-year-old Sapien passed away Jan. 30 after a lengthy illness and having been on dialysis for four or more years. He won a four-person race for the District 1 seat on the commission in 1998.

“I want to let everyone know that former Commissioner Bill Sapien passed away recently, and I’d like to send my regards to his family,” Bruch said. “I’d like to thank him for his many years of service to Sandoval County. He was a District 1 County Commissioner for eight years and quite just an exceptional man. His services, the viewing will be at French’s on Friday the 17th, the Wyoming location at 6 p.m. And on Saturday the 18th at Our Lady of Sorrows his funeral will be at 10. So if you knew the man or if you would like to support them, I know his Sandoval County family would appreciate that.”