Photos and article by Mary Alice Murphy

Emcee Jessica Morales, assistant dean of student life development at Western New Mexico University, began the ceremony by welcoming everyone to Light Hall for the annual celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy.

Brewer Hill Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Waldo Winborn offered the opening prayer.

Keana Huerta, Cobre High School senior, sang "Strange Fruit," by Abel Meeropol.

Student speakers read several paragraphs each of King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

Matthew Chavez, Cobre High School, read the first few paragraphs in English.

Valeria Adame, a WNMU student, read paragraphs in Spanish.

Lawrence Mwangala, a WNMU student, read in French.

Natasha Chapuma, WNUM student, read in Bemba, a language predominantly in Zambia.

Whitney Cuellar of Cobre High, read in English.

Huerta also read in English.

Favour Ernest, WNMU, read in Igbo, a southeastern Nigerian language.

And Clavon Caine, WNMU, read the last paragraphs in English.

Morales said King's love of people encompassed the whole world. "Here we have people who do the same important work. We are honoring three of them by inducting them into the Martin Luther King Jr. Hall of Fame."

The first to be honored was Dave Chandler, director at The Commons. Frances Vasquez, as one of the organizing committee members, introduced him and said he has worked in faith-based organizations, schools and non-profits to meet the needs of the food insecure. "He is described as a good leader. The Commons is thriving under his leadership."

Chandler said he was accepting the honor on behalf of the staff and especially the 65 volunteers at The Commons. "The volunteers are the core of the operation. We provide food boxes to residents of Silver City and the Mining District. We give out about 750,000 pounds of food every year. It's a lot of work to be done. We have the largest local food pantry in the state that relies almost exclusively on donations. We feel The Commons is the manifestation of community as King described it. We want to meet the unmet needs of residents. Our goal is to build self-sustainability and resiliency. It's easy to hand out food. We are working to reach sustainability and resiliency and we have identified three things. The first is food justice, because food is the back door to dignity. We are planning to open 'your own grocery store,' where people can walk in and choose the food they want. It is based on a national model. The second thing is that our school programs are also expanding. In the neighborhoods of each elementary school, we plan a produce stand. Backyard gardeners are invited to share their excess produce. And third, we want to build a community center at Bayard. It will be designed by residents in the Mining District, as a place to demonstrate gardening and a place to meet and visit. We are looking forward to the three things in the next year or so. Sometimes, it seems overwhelming, but together we can do it. With our volunteers the project can help manifest itself as the 'beloved community,' as King described it."

The second inductee into the Hall of Fame was Margaret Diaz, nurse supervisor at the Grant County and Hidalgo County public health offices.

Vasquez said a professional peer of Diaz described her as a "generous leader during Covid. She went out of her way to provide vaccinations to inmates in the detention centers in Grant and Hidalgo counties. She also took vaccines to people who could not come to the office. She is always a positive resource."

Diaz, a graduate of the WNMU Nursing School, said 19 years ago, when she took the job at the Grant County Public Health Office, "I knew it was the job I would retire from. I do lots of outreach. I provided tests and vaccines during the pandemic. I'm very thankful for all those who helped me, including my staff and volunteers, such as first responders, who spent long hours at the drive-in testing and vaccination days for an entire year. The way the community came together was amazing. Volunteers were the core of what we did. The Department of Health office also houses WIC, the women, infants and children program. That staff assisted as well. I feel we saved lives. We are still administering tests and vaccinations. The rate of Covid has begun to come down, so we are focusing back on childhood vaccinations and outreach. I was born and raised in Silver City and Grant County. I couldn't be more honored by this recognition."

Winborn, also one of the organizing committee, introduced retired Magistrate Judge Maurine Laney. "The first time I met her, I was working with the New Mexico State Police. I was introduced to her as she was a new young clerk at the Magistrate Court in Silver City. I got to know her and saw her drive to improve herself. It never ended. I speak to you students, always strive to improve yourselves. Strive for the mountaintops."

Laney is a lifelong Grant County resident, born and raised in Bayard. In 1992, she married her high school sweetheart Vernon Laney, shortly before graduating from Silver High School. "As luck would have it, her typing teacher, Thelma Sordyl, knew a clerk's position had opened up at the magistrate court. The two of them put together a resume and Ms. Sordyl wrote Maurine a pass to allow her to go to the court and apply. During the interview, Maurine explained she had no work experience at all, but she could type, spell, read and she really needed the job. She said: 'If I don't know how to do it, I'll learn, and as long as it's legal, I'll do it.' She was hired and began clerking for Judge John Scholl one day after her 18th birthday. She was thrilled to have a job that offered insurance and a retirement plan. Little did she know, this would be the start of a 30-year career in the courts. "

For the next 18 years, she clerked under Scholl and later under Magistrate Judge Ron Hall. She worked her way up through the court, eventually holding every position available including court manager. In 2010, at the suggestion of Hall, who was retiring, she ran for Magistrate Judge, was elected, and began her tenure in 2011, where she would remain for the next 12 years.

Through her three terms in office, Judge Laney continued her education by attending numerous trainings, workshops and courses offered by the Judicial Education Center of New Mexico and the National Judicial College. During her first year in office, she was elected to the New Mexico Magistrate Judges' Association Board of Directors and continued to serve on the board throughout her time on the bench. She was selected to be a member of the NM Judicial Education Center's training team and has taught numerous courses for judges over the years. She was appointed by the Supreme Court of New Mexico to sit on the NM Judicial Employees' Personnel Rules Committee and the Odyssey Judges' User Group Committee, which established and developed courts procedures. In 2015, the NM Supreme Court appointed her to serve on the Judicial Standards Commission, which hears complaints and cases brought against all levels of judges in New Mexico for rules and ethics violations. It makes recommendations to the Supreme Court of disciplinary actions as needed. She continued to serve on the commission until her retirement at the end of 2022.

Judge Laney handled one of the largest caseloads of any other individual magistrate in the state with a yearly average at times of between 5,000 and 6,000 cases. She believes Magistrate Court is the "People's Court." She has said: A judge must have a strong sense of ethics, conduct themselves with integrity and be accessible to the people. Judges are meant to be public servants and must treat everyone coming before them with integrity and respect. Every case is important, and each sentence should be tailored specifically toward the needs of the individual. The decisions made from the bench can have the power to effect positive change in people.

She also remained an active community member by supporting youth sports, being a member of the Grant County Community Health Council, Grant County Youth Advisory Committee, Yucca Lodge Advisory Board, Silver City Kiwanis Club and the Grant County Stepping Up program with a focus on reducing the number or people with mental illnesses in jails.

After her retirement, she lives in Silver City. Although she is retired, her passion for improving how the courts deal with people suffering from behavioral health issues and substance use disorders has not waned. She recently spoke to the NM Supreme Court about these concerns and, as a result, has been asked by the chief justice to consult with the newly formed New Mexico Mental Health and Competency Commission.

Winborn ended his introduction by saying to students: "Don't think that college is the end. It is just the beginning of your life and career. Continue to improve yourselves throughout your whole life."

Laney then accepted the honor. "My job became a passion. Justice is important. Equal justice is important. I went into the job with the idea to help those who came before me not to come back. Even though we are all born with equal opportunities, there are barriers. I saw issues when they came out of jail. They needed jobs, a place to live, and pretty soon they went back to their old ways and to what they knew. Even though they wanted to change, they couldn't. I spent a lot of time telling them that there is hope. But the issue of drugs in the community is devastating. The use of drugs makes it impossible to succeed. When addiction takes hold, there are still fleeting moments when they know they want to change and they want to get help, but then they're told that there is no bed for them for three months. The addiction takes hold again. Mental health is also an issue. The criminal justice system has become the ones who deal with those with mental health issues. It is not the system to deal with it. I'm going to continue to use my God-given gift of gab to squawk for solutions to these issues."

Morales gave closing remarks and thanked everyone for coming.

The organizing committee was made up of Vasquez, Templeton, Morales, Winborn, Raul Turrieta and Margaret Begay.

After the ceremony, the film "Selma" was shown.

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