As the U.S. bids farewell to its first black president and waits with unease for Friday’s inauguration of Donald Trump, it’s an important time to revisit the philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr., says Natasha Howard, a University of New Mexico professor of Africana studies.

“I think a lot of people are very concerned right now” about how Trump’s presidency will affect the country, Howard said in an interview Saturday.

The Republican’s shocking election victory in November was followed by a weeklong outbreak of hate-filled graffiti, harassment and even violent assaults — including incidents on the UNM campus in Albuquerque. Trump’s heated rhetoric against Muslims, immigrants, women and other groups, and threats of a wall being constructed at the border with Mexico, have intensified divisions and fear in an already polarized nation.

Those fears were visible Saturday as thousands of people led by civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton rallied against Trump in Washington, D.C. Marches also were held in Washington and other U.S. cities, including Albuquerque, in support of immigrant rights.

“It’s us over here, you’re over there,” Howard said. But now is the time to break down barriers, she said, and begin holding open, honest discussions of “how we are stronger as a united community.”

Howard will be the featured speaker at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at noon Monday at the Capitol, an annual event that draws hundreds of people to the Roundhouse to reflect on King’s legacy. Her talk, Howard said, will focus on the civil rights leader’s vision of a “beloved community” — a peaceful world free from discrimination and bigotry — and the role of a contemporary movement that she believes has some answers on how to establish and maintain such an inclusive community.

Black Lives Matter, which often faces criticism that it is exacerbating racial tensions, is actually centered on building community and is “supportive and open across diverse groups of people,” Howard said, adding that most people who criticize the movement haven’t adequately researched it.

She isn’t a member of the organization, but Howard often holds discussions about the movement in her classes at UNM, she said. “The real reason we need a movement like Black Lives Matter is because black lives haven’t mattered. … The fact that we even have to say that is problematic.”

Carol Johnson of the Santa Fe branch of the NAACP, which is hosting Monday’s celebration of King, said three local high school students will be honored at the event for their service to the community. The honorees are Jason Duncan, a senior at the New Mexico School for the Arts, Irvin Araiza Peña, a senior at Santa Fe High School, and Jessica Sipos, a senior at Capital High School. The teens volunteer with an array of organizations ranging from church fellowships to homeless shelters to environmental groups.

This year’s event marks the city’s 25th annual King celebration, Johnson said. “It’s kind of become a Santa Fe tradition.”

Because of its popularity, she warned, those hoping for a good seat should arrive early — and prepare to feel inspired by speeches, songs and African drumming.

“It’s so uplifting,” she said of the celebration, “and right now, I think that’s what we need.”

Contact Cynthia Miller at 505-986-3095 or

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