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Loma Heights Students Clean Up Neglected Community Cemetery

Loma Heights Students are cleaning up the Las Cruces Community Cemetery, which has suffered neglect for years.

Trash, weeds, vandalism and time have taken a toll on the cemetery, which was originally intended for the burial of African Americans in the 1940’s.

Now, a group of students is hoping to restore the cemetery into a place of honor. “We know some of the people buried there went through so much at the time and they fought, like Rosa Parks, for their (rights),” Kayla Clements said. She is a student at Loma Heights Elementary, which is right next to the cemetery.

Clements was among a group of students who appeared before Dona Ana County Commissioners Court. The group gave a presentation on its efforts to clean the cemetery. The students say they need help because some of the headstones are falling apart.

“When we saw the headstones without names and it hurts me,” Clements said. “When someone dies, you don’t want to be forgotten and we want to make it better for them. We want it to be a beautiful place.”

Clements told ABC-7’s New Mexico Mobile Newsroom today’s youth enjoys the benefits of the civil rights movement, but knows little about the sacrifices made by previous generations.

“It makes me feel sad because they went through so much, and so many kids are going in the wrong direction and they’re not learning about what (previous generations) went through,” Clements added.

Jadyn Duran, a 5th grade student at Loma Heights, also wants the next generation of Las Crucens to learn about the civil rights struggle and the people laid to rest at the Community Cemetery. “I go to other cemeteries that are nice,” Duran said. “Our goal is to clean up the cemetery so people can visit their loved ones and turn it into a historic landmark.”

Jennifer Coon, an assistant principal at Loma Heights, said teachers first noticed the condition the cemetery was in back in 2002.

Teachers began investigating the cemetery’s history and eventually met Grover Pettes, whose family is buried in the Community Cemetery.

“My father came to Las Cruces in 1923 so we’re kind of old-timers around here,” Pettes said before commissioners court. He praised the students for their interest in the cemetery and their efforts to clean it.

Pettes recounted how African American families had problems finding a final resting place for their loved ones during the segregation era. According to Pettes, four churches united to buy 2.5 acres of land on the 1400 block of Hernandez Street.

That land eventually became the Community Cemetery, which Pettes says is a “real monument for African Americans in Las Cruces.” He urges the community to support Loma Heights students.

“The cemetery is not going anywhere. It is part of our community, part of our neighborhood,” Coon said. “We need to be examples of collaboration to help make the neighborhood a better place.”

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