African-American History Month brings broad menu of cultural events

Some have argued that the appreciation of African-American history shouldn’t be restricted to just one month each year.

That’s certainly true. But, from a more practical standpoint, having a hefty and diverse roster of concerts, plays and educational programs to attend each February during African-American History Month does make it easier to ensure that something — a jazz concert, the screening of an acclaimed film, a riveting panel discussion — won’t fall between a day planner’s cracks.

And again this year, Southern Nevadans who might be seeking out a diverse array of cultural and arts events designed to illuminate and underscore the African-American experience need look no further than the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District, which Wednesday kicks off a monthlong roster of African-American History Month events.

Most of the library district’s events will take place at the West Las Vegas Library, 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd.

M.E. Jani Jeppe, performing arts center coordinator at the West Las Vegas Library, said African-American History Month is one of four monthlong celebrations that form the core of the district’s minority heritage programs (others are Native American Heritage Month, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and National Hispanic Heritage Month).

But, Jeppe adds, “our programs are diverse all year long.”

That diversity extends even to the events themselves. For example, this year’s celebration of African-American History Month is scheduled to include presentations about jazz, performances by the Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater, a panel discussion about African-Americans in film and a screening of the film “Sounder,” a Gospel brunch and showcase, author presentations, an oratorical competition and a concert by The Ink Spots.

“We cover the full spectrum, and we also try to provide the very best in terms of artistic presentation,” Jeppe says. “We network and co-sponsor with various agencies that really help to provide great programming.”

Also scheduled are two performances of “Shotgun,” a drama produced by Broadway in the Hood/A Source of Joy Theatricals and Torrey A. Russell that explores themes of racism and love. The play is the second entry in writer John Biguenet’s “Rising Water” trilogy, which explores the after-effects, both human and societal, of Hurricane Katrina.

“Shotgun” is set about five months after Katrina, Russell says. In it, a young African-American woman who lives with her father — who has lost his own home in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward to Katrina — rents out half of a shotgun duplex to a white man and his teenaged son who had lost their own home to Katrina.

However, when the young man and young woman fall in love, the dynamics of race, love, social differences and even parent-child relationships are revealed.

“The father begins as a traditional African-American male who thinks, ‘Why is this white man trying to move into our neighborhood?’ ” Russell says.

“It actually deals quite a bit with reverse racism. We often think racism is a one-sided thing. In this play, it actually gives you an opportunity to look at racism from both angles.”

Here are some of the other events offered by the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District to celebrate African-American History Month. All events are free and open to the public. For more information, call 507-3989 or the number listed for the individual library branch, or visit the district’s website (

■ “What’s All That Jazz About?” 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Las Vegas Library, 833 Las Vegas Blvd. North (507-3500) and 10:30 a.m. Feb. 4 at Spring Valley Library, 4280 S. Jones Blvd. (507-3820): Jazz saxophonist Shenole Latimer will employ live performance, a lecture and listening samples in teaching audiences how to listen to, and appreciate, jazz.

■ “Shotgun,” 7 p.m. Feb. 3 and 1 p.m. Feb. 4 at West Las Vegas Library, 951 W. Lake Mead Blvd. (507-3989): The play, for mature audiences, was written by John Biguenet and is directed by Anthony R. Smith Jr. and produced by Broadway in the Hood/A Source of Joy Theatricals and Torrey A. Russell. It is about race relations following Hurricane Katrina.

■ African-American Authors Symposium, 2 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road (507-3459): Local African-American authors who write in the genre of children’s literature will participate in a book fair and panel discussion.

■ “Our Music, Our Culture: A Journey through Jazz History,” 4 p.m. Feb. 4 at Windmill Library, 7060 W. Windmill Lane (507-6030): Jazz saxophonist Shenole Latimer will offer a multimedia presentation about the history of jazz, emphasizing the form’s African-American roots and examining why it has been called “America’s classical music.”

■ The Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater’s “An Evening of Dance,” 7 p.m. Feb. 10, and “An Afternoon of Dance” at 1 p.m. Feb. 11 at West Las Vegas Library: The dance company, under the artistic direction of founder Bernard H. Gaddis, associate director emeritus Kevin C. Gibbs, and associate director Marie-Joe Tabet, will perform.

■ “Blacks in Hollywood and Film: A Workshop For Youth,” 3 p.m. Feb. 11 at the West Las Vegas Library: The history of African-American actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes professionals will be explored. Featured guests will include University of Nevada, Las Vegas theater professor Nate Bynum, singer Merald “Bubba” Knight, singer/actress Mary Wilson, actress and theater instructor Rayme Cornell, singer/actress/dancer Primrose Martin and rapper/producer Tony Madd KD. Co-sponsored by the Las Vegas Chapter of the Links Inc.

■ Gospel Brunch Inspirational Showcase, 11 a.m. Feb. 14 at the West Las Vegas Library: Singers, dancers, poets and speakers will perform (and a light lunch will be served). Call 229-6374 by Feb. 7 for reservations. Co-sponsored by the city of Las Vegas.

■ African American Youth Leadership Conference 2012, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 17 at the West Las Vegas Library: Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly and county liaison Kelly Benavidez will host an educational conference for youth.

■ “The World Famous Ink Spots in Concert,” 2 p.m. Feb. 18 at the West Las Vegas Library: The pioneering vocal group — their work influenced later rhythm and blues and doo-wop artists — will perform their classics and a few new tunes, too. Co-sponsored by the city of Las Vegas Office of Cultural Affairs and the West Las Vegas Arts Center.

■ “Sounder,” 2 p.m. Feb. 19, West Las Vegas Library: The acclaimed 1972 film starring Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield will be shown.

■ West Prep Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Competition and Festival,
5 p.m. Feb. 22 at the West Las Vegas Library: Students from throughout the Las Vegas Valley will display and celebrate their oratorical skills during a recitation and performance competition. Co-sponsored by the Clark County School District.

■ Author’s Speakeasy with Keith Brantley, 2 p.m. Feb. 25 at the West Las Vegas Library: Author Keith Brantley (“Swimming in a Cesspool”) reads from his latest work. Facilitated and moderated by playwright, poet and spoken word performance artist Ms. China.

Contact reporter John Przybys at or 702-383-0280.

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