“This is diversity,” James Allen said as he looked out across the room where people of different races gathered Saturday for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Black History Luncheon. “People accepting each other, acknowledging each other and respecting each other…. This room is the epitome of what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked about.”
“Education is the key to changing our world,” Allen said. “It is the one key that can change discrimination, poverty. If we put out product that is detrimental to our society, they can’t solve problems all they can do is react. If we put out a product of students that are not only academically prepared but have the cultural sensitivity that will embrace each other, then we can truly make a change.”
His comments came at a celebration hosted by the Amarillo chapter of the NAACP, which substituted in part for the local MLK march and speeches that were cancelled earlier this month due to snow and ice. He is an Amarillo ISD board member and the City of Amarillo Community Development Administrator.
In his remarks, Allen called for people to actively do something to bring about the changes they want to see come to fruition.
Educators and city officials, including keynote speaker Police Chief Ed Drain, shared their beliefs about diversity and tolerance. Their comments were accompanied by readings of King’s historic words from 1963, ranging from his historically powerful “I Have as Dream” speech to his prophetic treatise on injustice, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”
“Our city is a microcosm of what’s going on in the world right now,” Allen said. “Our district is at a crossroads: we’re going to have to make some decisions on whether we want to be a 21st century school district that will embrace our cultural diversity…or we’re going to continue to say we don’t have any problems.”
Allen said he believes the public education system is under attack and that the current federal administration wants to move tax dollars out of public schools and into private and charter schools, to the further detriment of America’s education system.
“Just because you don’t have children, [doesn’t mean you don’t] need to be in the school district. If we have a strong school system, economic development will come. I’d rather spend more money on education per person than we do on incarceration,” Allen said.
Amarillo Police Chief Ed Drain told the gathering that he’s been too busy working to take stock of being the first black police chief in Amarillo.
“Preparing for this event, I realized…it is historic….and having an African-American as police chief is apparently important to a lot of people,” Drain said. “
“I just go about doing my job the best I can.”
The city’s top police officer said he believes that there is still racism in society.
“We saw that having Barack Obama in office clearly did not end the racial hatred in this country, and it’s not going to end it in Amarillo with me being police chief. All we can do is take baby steps…and not focus so much on the race issues but focus on trying to make our community and country better.”
The chief spoke of the perception of mistrust and injustice between many police departments and members of dark skinned communities across the country.
Drain asked the attendees, “If you don’t like your doctor, you don’t trust the information he gave you, what do you do? If you don’t like your mechanic…what do you do? If you don’t like the Amarillo Police Department, you can’t call the Canyon Police Department. You have to have confidence in your local law enforcement, because in a critical incident that’s all you have to call.”
Reflecting upon the authority a police officer is granted by virtue of the position, Drain told the assembly how seriously he takes his role as chief to protect that authority.
He said that in the seven months he has been in office, four officers are no longer with the department because he felt they were no upholding their oaths.
Drain also talked about increasing the size of the department and hiring more officers who will reflect the diversity of Amarillo’s residents.
And he’s thinking about giving citizens access to an annual survey where they can rate the department and its’ officers.
Freda Powell, a candidate for Amarillo City Council Place 2 in the upcoming municipal election, acted as the the luncheon’s mistress of ceremony., which was in part as much prayer as it was as a call to action.
“The Amarillo NAACP…encourages all citizens to take an informed and active participation in their government and community,” Powell said. “The NAACP’s mission is to ensure the political education [and] social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination.”
“I’m here to honor God and demonstrate my love of neighbors in honor of God,” said mayoral candidate Jim Lowder II, the chair of the Potter County Republican Party. “I hope in doing so, I’m following in some small way in Dr. Martin Luther King [Jr’s.] footsteps … Whether you believe in Lucy or Eve, we all share a common goal.”
“As an American [I] proclaim and celebrate Dr. King [Jr.’s] dream as all of our own. I’m here to suggest that we can only solve our problems together. I don’t think there’s a black solution to a problem or a white solution…as Dr. King [Jr.] showed us, I think there will be American solutions to our problems.”
Being a self-described son of a Yankee and a southern bell, Lowder spoke of his “half-breed” upbringing where he experienced inclusion and diversity. He said that Dr. King Jr. ranks with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and other iconic figures of history who shaped our nation.
“As a conservative, there is nothing in my heart more easy embrace than the dream that we should be judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin.”
“The threat [to injustice] is at an all-time high,” said Melodie Graves, an Amarillo College senior advising associate.
“Over 50 years since the writings [of Dr. King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail], injustices still exist in the African-American culture. The physical chains of slavery have been broken but the mental chains keep us oppressed and stagnant…in poverty…[and] feeling inferior… If we don’t break these mental chains we will see these mental chains turn back into the physical chains and choke the life out of our entire culture.”
Graves also spoke of protecting lives, lowering the incarceration rate, empowering women and taking action on local, state and national levels.
“Division has never been as sexy as unity,” she said.
Potter County Precinct Four Commissioner Alphonso Vaughn said, “I believe if Dr. King were here he would be aghast at what is being proposed from our incoming government. a systematic attempt to disenfranchise a majority of the people while letting more tax breaks and benefits go toward the top 2 to 3 percent economically in our population. Dr. King, I believe, would call upon us to recognize, organize, mobilize and fight back to maintain the gains that he and many of forefathers fought, bled and died for.”
Commissioner Vaughn called for vigilance, education, protection of the weak and participation in the political system, despite party alliance.
“Almost everything that gets done involves politics,” he said.