The Rev. Owen Latimore, of Grant Chapel AME Church in Albuquerque, delivers an impassioned speech during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemorative Service in Calvin Hall Auditorium on The University of New Mexico-Gallup campus Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.
Guest speakers spread MLK's messages of inspiration and love at UNM-Gallup
By Richard Reyes | Monday, Jan. 23, 2023
Commemorative service celebrates legacy of slain civil rights leader, encourages more progress
GALLUP, N.M. — When the Rev. Owen Latimore was a 12-year-old eighth-grader at Addison Junior High in Cleveland, Ohio, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an inspiring speech directly to him and his fellow schoolchildren Oct. 22, 1964.
By his own admission, Latimore was not in tune with what was going on in the world at that time and didn’t even know who King was. Latimore said he didn’t put much thought into his future because opportunities were not that prevalent for someone like him back then.
“But when (King) came out and he began to speak, something moved,” Latimore said. “It was as if he was speaking to me and me alone.”
Latimore admitted that he did not remember the atmosphere in his school’s auditorium that day despite the cacophony of applause that can be heard in the audio recording from that day, which is available to hear online. Nor did Latimore remember much of King’s speech, but a portion of King’s message stuck with him throughout his life.
Latimore, now a pastor at the Grant Chapel AME Church in Albuquerque, recounted those words while delivering his own impassioned speech during the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Commemorative Service in the Calvin Hall Auditorium on The University of New Mexico-Gallup campus Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.
“I remember when he said that if you can’t be a tree on a hill, be a bush in a valley,” Latimore said. “I remember when he said if you have to be a street sweeper, then sweep streets like Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I remember! I remember just as clear as day today when he said that if you have to be a street sweeper, then sweep streets like Shakespeare composed poetry, or sweep streets like Beethoven composed music.”
Latimore said he didn’t understand why those words touched him. Names like Michelangelo, Shakespeare and Beethoven had no connection to a black boy living in the Cleveland ghettos like himself, but King’s message stayed with him.
Nearly four years later, on April 4, 1968, Latimore remembered when he learned that King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.
“I didn’t know what was going on, but for some reason, I sat down, and I began to cry,” Latimore said. “Tears were falling down my eyes. I didn’t understand what it was about, but I understood that I had lost somebody important in my life.”
Latimore compared black icons such as King, Malcolm X, Harriet Tubman, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu to the “cloud of witnesses” referenced by Elijah in The Epistle of the Hebrews, a book of the New Testament.
“What they’re saying is, somebody came before you came,” Latimore said. “Somebody though pain and heartache that had to hew out the path which you walk today. Somebody before you came was here, and there is a thread, an eternal inner thread that connects us to those who were before us. And in that weaving of all these different peoples that came, there’s a foundation on which all of us stand that we can reach across one another and shake each other’s hand and say, ‘I believe that if I love you enough no matter what you say, no matter what you do, no matter what you think, that everything with me will be all right.’ That’s what I believe.”
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