BY MIKE COOK
Las Cruces Bulletin
“I wanted to raise the bar a little bit in this area,” Dr. Bobbie Green said about her desire to lead the local chapter of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.
“If I can make things better for one person or one group of people…then that’s what I want to do,” Green said shortly after becoming the new Doña Ana County NAACP president in January. “It’s not about me. It’s about what I can do to help someone else.”
Green wants to advocate for children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border and caravan members seeking asylum in the U.S.; increase the quality of education for children and the pay for teachers in New Mexico; and reduce mass incarceration rates in prisons and gun violence. She also wants to boost the NAACP’s fundraising, especially as it benefits scholarships for local students.
Her most heartfelt goals is to “increase the awareness of life on the border,” Green said.
Her parents met in a cotton field near Silver City and raised nine children on a farm off Miles Road north of Las Cruces, she said. The children of migrant families that came to the area from Texas and Mexico to pick onions “were my playmates growing up,” Green said. “I have been part of the border experience all my life.” Issues being raised about the border today are “disturbing to me,” she said. “It paints a picture that is not accurate.”
“All they want is a better life,” Green said about people on both sides of the border, including those crossing from Mexico into the United States.
If people could “walk a mile in my shoes, in my parents’ shoes,” she said, “they might have a little more empathy.” It would help to “dispel some of the myths,” and help people to see others “as fellow human beings and not assume anything because of skin color.”
There are “built-in stress factors that come with being a person of color,” Green said. Racial profiling, in particular, is “extremely disturbing to me. I’ve experienced it personally.”
Racism, Green said, has become more predominant in the current political environment.
“We’ve got to get back to a place where there’s not so much vitriol, anger and ‘them vs. us,’” she said.
Green said she recently received her ancestry profile, which traces her roots to the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Cameroon. The route of her ancestors to the United States “was taken undoubtedly on slave ships,” she said, that landed in Virginia. Her forebears made their way to Oklahoma and Texas before coming to New Mexico.
“I see that and understand what my ancestors went through,” Green said. “There’s strength in my DNA. It’s the reason to fight for African Americans, Native Americans and Hispanic Americans,” she said, including those Hispanics “that are not Americans but want to be. It’s in my birthright. It’s my life. It’s my obligation. Most of what drives me is my history and my background and my parents and what they had to go through.”
Green’s mother, Rosie, was a cook for many years at the Aggie snack bar in Gerald Thomas Hall at New Mexico State University. Forty years later, her daughter applied to that university as a student and had a 15-year teaching career there. When she was hired, Bobbie said, her feisty mother told a university dean, “’If you don’t take care of my baby, I’ll be back up here to see you.’ She opened the door for me.” Bobbie Green’s father, Shepard Green Sr., was a farmer who “worked sun to sun, rain or shine, sick or well,” she said. He had no health care and no pension.
The school bus bypassed the Green farm on Miles Road when Bobbie was a child. Her mother made some calls and soon the bus was stopping to pick up Bobbie and two younger siblings. She became the first black child to attend MacArthur Elementary School in Las Cruces, Green said. Rosie was fearful of the treatment her daughter would receive at the school, but “it was exactly the opposite,” Bobbie said.
“I remember every one of those teachers because they were phenomenal,” she said. “They just saw me as another child. I remember them because they had such a great impact on my life. I wasn’t stereotyped. I was just a child at the school. I was pushed to excel and given opportunities. They didn’t put me in the back, they put me in the front. For those teachers, I’ll be forever grateful.”
She especially remembers the Misses Uttley, Ivy, Lynn, Gordon and Stauder – all white teachers. “I have often thought of them,” Green said. “I would love to say ‘thank you’ to them for the foundation they gave me. Those first years of school shaped me to be the person I am today.”
Children today deserve the same opportunity for a quality education, Green said, “regardless of where they came from or the color of their skin.”
Green later attended Alameda Junior High and graduated from Mayfield High School. She got a BA in English from USC, an MBA from City University in Seattle and a Ph.D. from Seattle University. She now teaches for City University online.
Green left her native Las Cruces in the early 1980s as part of her work for Microsoft, traveling throughout the U.S. and living in Seattle and southern California. She had the opportunity to settle “anywhere in the world, (but) I couldn’t think of a better place to live than New Mexico,” Green said. She returned to Las Cruces to care for her aging parents in 2004 and begin her career at NMSU. “My only regret is that I didn’t come back sooner,” she said.
Green was picking roses with her father the day he had an aneurism, she said. He died at age 85.
“I’m very grateful that I have that memory of my father,” Green said. “Now every time I pick a rose, I think of him.” Her mother died three years later in 2008 at age 83. “After 62 years of marriage, she didn’t want to live without him,” Green said.
Green sang at the funerals of both her parents at Greater St. John Church of God in Christ on Mesquite Street, which her mother helped found in 1935. Green still attends services there and conducts the church choir. “That is part of my history. My spirituality comes from that foundation,” she said.
“For me to grow up and become a faculty member at NMSU speaks well for this country,” Green said. “It speaks very well of the parents who reared me to get an education even though they never had one.”
That Green was hired to teach at the same university where its first black graduate, Clara Belle Williams, was forced to sit outside white classrooms in the 1930s “speaks highly of the progress we’ve made,” she said. So does the fact that the NMSU Gospel Choir, which Green leads, is funded by the NMSU Provost’s Office.
“My roots are founded in the power of determined parents who did everything they could for their children until the day they died,” she said.
It would be easy to stay on the sidelines, Green said, and “be a spectator rather than a participant. But Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, slave rebellion leader Nat Turner and Clara Belle Williams – “they were not spectators,” Green said. “Because of them I had an opportunity to live a good life. I’ve had an unlikely history, and so I have to now pay it forward.”
“The selflessness, determination and untiring devotion to equality even at the cost of his own life” of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who would have turned 90 this year, particularly inspires Green. With King as a model, she said, “anything I can do, even on a small scale, is a step in the right direction.”
“I do know that life is short. What you do while you’re here, that’s pretty much all you have.”
Mike Cook may be contacted at email@example.com.