Gripping a microphone, the senior pastor at New Antioch Christian Fellowship delivered a message to the crowd gathered Saturday at the Springs Preserve’s Black History Month Festival in Las Vegas.
“Black history matters because the black mind matters,” Naida Parson told festival attendees. “Black history matters because black culture matters.”
She ticked off just some of the aspects of black culture that make up American history: Ragtime, blues, jazz, r&b, disco, hip hop, contemporary gospel. Soul food, Afros, dreadlocks.
“It was black culture that gave us color on Sunday, power in poetry, revolution in song, freedom in speech and defiance in a dance,” Parson said.
And, Parson said, black history should be celebrated over more than just the month of February.
The Springs Preserve event was its ninth consecutive festival honoring Black History Month. Each year, the festival grows, event coordinator Corey Enus said. He cited support from a multitude of sponsors, including Wynn Resorts, Southwest Medical, Toyota and the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District Foundation.
“Even though this is hosted by the Springs, it belongs to the community,” Enus said. “The African-Americans that shaped the trajectory of our city.”
In many cases in Las Vegas’ past, black performers weren’t always allowed to stay at the casinos where they performed or to enter through the front door, Enus explained.
In some ways, he added, the event helps pay homage to those who contributed to the desegregation of the Strip.
Those in attendance watched performances from dancers, singers and a step team. Kids made hats, got their face painted and danced to gospel music.
Vendors offered vibrantly colored handicrafts and cultural items for sale. “Have a blessed day,” Beverly Williams said as she smiled and handed a woman her purchase from Williams’ Handcraftivity Imports offerings, which included multicolored dress wraps, jewelry and skirts.
The festival also included an opportunity to help others. Seventy percent of African-Americans have a type O or B blood — the blood types most in demand — so in conjunction with the event, an American Red Cross blood drive accepted donations.
“This is my first time coming to the festival. Why not give blood and make a difference,” said Jasmine Catchings, 23, who donated blood Saturday.
Catchings, who just moved to Las Vegas, stressed the importance of the community to be educated about black culture.
“For all Americans, black history is American history,” she said.
She pointed to the festival’s display of the faces of Nevada’s black history as a good way to inform the public about prominent moments.
Pictures of those who contributed to black history in Nevada were posted throughout the venue. prevalent, including Aaron Ford, the current Nevada Senate majority leader and second African-American to hold the post, and Woodrow Wilson, the first black man elected to the Nevada Legislature.
Not far away from the posters, three cousins with their faces painted sat on a table. Eight-year-old Laela Shaw Hayes-Watson wore a flower crown, and a pink-and-blue butterfly design pasted around her face.
“Black culture is about how people can believe in their self and don’t follow other people,” she said.
Her cousin, Shelton Barnes, 12, had a different reason for celebrating: “For the people that gave their lives for us.”
Contact Briana Erickson at email@example.com or 702-387-5244. Follow @brianarerick on Twitter.