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“I wasn’t always Sgt. Jamar Cotton. I wasn’t always an Aggie football player. I was that little black boy who didn’t have a choice,” Jamar Cotton told the Doña Ana County NAACP’s Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast Monday morning, Jan. 16.
Cotton, a sergeant with the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department, spoke to an overflow crowd at the Las Cruces Convention Center that included Mayor Ken Miyagishima, Mayor Pro Tempore Kasandra Gandara and City Councilors Yvonne Flores and Johana Bencomo; City Manager Ifo Pili and Assistant City Manager Ikani Taumoepeau; County Manager Fernando Macias, County Commissioner Manuel Sanchez and County Sheriff Kim Stewart; Third Judicial District Attorney Gerald Byers and District Judge Robert Lara; New Mexico State University Vice President for Inclusion and Diversity Teresa Maria Linda Scholz, Associate Provost for Student Success Patrick Turner and Head Football Coach Jerry Kill and members of the Aggie football team; Las Cruces Public Schools Superintendent Ralph Ramos and LCPS Board of Education President Teresa Tenorio; Temple Beth-El Rabbi Evette Lutman; Las Cruces icon Barbara Hubbard; Las Cruces Symphony Orchestra Director Emeritus Lonnie Klein; and long-time educator and storyteller Dorris Hamilton; among others.
“Today is the day,” Cotton said, with the audience echoing his words. “I can and I will be the difference. This is the power.”
The world today is “lacking in mentors and teachers,” Cotton said. So many people “need somebody to talk to them; need somebody to listen to them,” he said.
For Cotton, the person “who believed in me” was his Irvington (New Jersey) High School track coach, Martin Hawkins.
“This man told me I could be a champion,” Cotton said. “I laughed at him.”
But Hawkins got Cotton into track, he said, where, by his senior year, he had become ranked in the top 15 nationally.
Cotton came to NMSU on a football scholarship and was an Aggie linebacker, 2006-10. He joined the sheriff’s department in 2010 and is today third vice president of the DAC NAACP and youth president of the New Mexico Martin Luther King Jr. State Commission Ambassador Program.
Citing issues that were important to King, Cotton said “Change is needed,” as are love, compassion and understanding; “justice for all, not some”; and equality – “We’re still fighting that battle,” he said.
“Silence is a big issue,” Cotton said. “We’re too quiet. We fail to speak up. This community doesn’t get better with you being quiet.”
Cotton closed with this quote from King: “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.”