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MLK keynote speaker touts the importance of leadership

Tia Gafford, left, and Lorelei Saneto, both from Santa Fe, and others take part in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration in the Rotunda of the Roundhouse on Monday. U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and PED Secretary Ryan Stewart spoke at the event. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “A day on, not a day off” was the theme connecting the speakers’ messages at the 24th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Commemorative Breakfast in Albuquerque.

Speakers, each in her or his own way, emphasized that there are no holidays in the struggle to keep martyred civil rights leader King’s dream of equality for all Americans alive.

“We can make a difference despite significant challenges if we double down on our efforts,” said keynote speaker Rodney Prunty, president and CEO of United Way of Central New Mexico. He said those united in the cause of equality can rededicate their efforts by employing the three Bs of leadership – bright leadership, bold leadership and brave leadership.

Rodney Prunty, president and CEO of United Way of Central New Mexico, is introduced at Monday’s 24th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Commemorative Breakfast. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Bright leadership, Prunty said, is the hunger for learning and data analysis, doing the research to get to the root of inequities. Bold leadership, he said, is seeing the big picture and beyond, developing strategies and being aggressive.

“And brave leadership is action oriented,” Prunty said. “It is doing something about the (inequitable) systems we see. It requires courage. Brave leadership changes our world.”

More than 500 people attended Monday’s breakfast at the Albuquerque Marriott Pyramid North Hotel. It was hosted by the lay organization of Grant Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Besides Prunty, other speakers included New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller and U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland.

Prunty joined United Way of Central New Mexico in June 2019. A native of St. Louis, he grew up in Illinois and has worked 30 years in the nonprofit sector, serving previously as president and chief professional officer of United Way of Racine County, Wisconsin.

He said he is the middle child of five children, all born within a year of each other, and that he was the last one among those five siblings that anyone would have predicted would be president and CEO of United Way. Prunty explained that during his early years, he did not put much emphasis on or effort into education.

“My mother called me a maverick before I even knew what that word meant,” he said. But an early job taught Prunty the value and rewards of public service, and he became the first person in his family to earn a college degree.

Inequity, he told his audience, is the result of systems developed hundreds of years ago and inequity is the intended results of those systems.

“This is not an accident,” Prunty said. “The work (we do) is hard because of the barriers thrown up. It takes time. Find an organization. Lend your time, talent and leadership. No matter what you do, do something. Martin Luther King said, ‘If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.’ ”

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