Clara Garcia | News-Bulletin photos

Embracing diverse cultures, the Belen Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Commission invited Miyagi Ryu Nosho Kai Okinawan dancers to perform at the 29th annual candlelight vigil on Monday.

The annual celebration and ceremony was held Monday at the Belen Public Library, with lovely Japanese dancers, talented singers and musicians and inspiring speakers.

Belen Municipal Judge Keith Norwood, who was the keynote speaker, talked about his history and road to success.

Belen Municipal Judge Keith Norwood was the keynote speaker at the annual Belen Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Commission candlelight vigil, which was held at the Belen Public library.

Therese Ulivarri, the commission’s chairwoman, presented Ronnie Torres with a certificate of appreciation.

“I moved to Georgia from Michigan when I was in the first grade,” Norwood said. “I went to a segregated school. We had the worst of everything. Whatever the other schools didn’t want, and it was broken down, that’s what the Black students got.

“We were hungry,” he continued. “They had the free lunch programs at the other schools, but we didn’t have it. We got what was left over. In spite of the circumstances, we dreamed and we hoped and we prayed.”

He said looking back at history and those who came before him, they paved the way for a better life for him, including Oscar Dunn, who was born a slave and was elected the first Black lieutenant governor of Louisiana in 1868.

Mildred Garley, a board member of the Belen Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Multicultural Commission, lit the large candle at the candlelight vigil.

Belen Public Library Director Kathy Pickering presents Ryan Sandlin with his first-place award for his artwork.

“As I grew up, I really began to appreciate my ancestors, not just because they were Black,” he said. “I began to appreciate the people who stood up for righteousness.”

Norwood said he learned something while in college that he never forgot.

“Excuses are the tools of the incompetent …,” he said. “I believe I can accomplish anything I put my mind to regardless of the obstacles that are put in my way. I dream and I will strive. I may not get there, but I got into the arena and I stayed the course.”

He said that’s what Dr. King was talking about — “Don’t give up. Someone isn’t going to like you and that’s OK. The only thing you have control of is yourself, your dreams, your hope and your destination. Don’t let anyone dictate who you are.”

The candlelight ceremony held Monday was attended by many community members to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Terese Ulivarri, the chairman of the commission, gave a certificate of appreciation to former Belen mayor and commission board member Ronnie Torres for his years of service.

“Our commission wouldn’t be viable without the people who have volunteered,” Ulivarri said. “People have come and gone, some have stayed and people have committed themselves. Ronnie Torres has always been here for us and has done a wonderful job but has decided to retire.”

Belen Public Library Director Kathy Pickering presents Lilia Coffman with a first-place award for her artwork.

The commission also presented awards for its annual art contests. In the 7-12th grade category, Lilia Coffman took home first place for her drawing of hands around the Earth.

In the pre-k-6th grade category, the winners were: 1. Ryan Sandlin; 2. Alexandra Mendez; 3. Violet Baca-Salazar; and honorable mention went to Gustavo Baca-Salazar.  

Lilia Coffman received first place in the commission’s 7-12 grade art contest for her drawing of hands around the Earth.

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Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.