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‘A safe space’: Facebook group unites Henderson Black community

Updated February 25, 2023 - 12:07 am

When real estate agents Nicci and Jameen Willis moved to Henderson in 2019, they found it difficult to connect with other people of color in their new community.

So, the pair created a Facebook group called Black Henderson Nevada to create a space for the city’s Black residents to connect and network.

“When we started this group, it was because we didn’t have a sense of community,” Nicci Willis said. “That’s all this ever was, just trying to find people that look like us, that have similar experiences, to come to have a safe space to interact and connect with each other.”

The group that started with six members has now grown to more than 2,500.

Its stated mission is to “network, inform and meet other people of color in the city of Henderson.” It holds two monthly events for networking in person and one annual gathering in September for its members. It also promotes its events on a public Instagram account.

“We have realtors, lawyers, event planners, a bunch of different business owners within the community, and we all support each other and network,” Jameen Willis said.

‘Do Black people live in Henderson?’

Nicci Willis and her husband believe the lack of community is part of a bigger issue with representation within the city.

“People ask the question, ‘Do Black people live in Henderson?’ So we can already tell you right then and there, that there is a lack of representation with the way the city portrays itself,” she said.

Multiple clients have asked the couple that question when thinking about moving to Henderson. They used their YouTube channel promoting their real estate business to publish a video titled “Do Black people live in Henderson?” It turned out to be their second-most popular upload.

In response to the concerns about representation, city spokeswoman Madeleine Skains said in a statement that the city values all of its residents and remains committed to fostering an inclusive community.

Henderson has a designated Community Diversity Liaison as a resource for the public to ensure the interests and concerns of underrepresented individuals in the community are understood by city leadership, Skains said.

Skains also said the city is happy to contact the group’s organizers to work together to address any concerns.

At a recent Black Henderson Nevada coffee meet-up, attendees shared thoughts about the difficulties of finding other local people of color, as well as their appreciation of the group’s efforts to build a community.

“It’s just nice to see a community trying to come together,” Deb Stone said, “because when I moved to Vegas in 2019 I couldn’t find any other Black people.”

Stone said that one of the first events she attended was the group’s Saturday morning meet-up. She now plans to go to more.

Lillian Jackson, a group member for about two years, said the internet and groups such as Black Henderson Nevada have helped people of color connect, especially in places with a lot of transience like Las Vegas.

The group helped Jackson connect with people to use her content creation studio, which Nicci and Jameen Willis use for their real estate podcasts and YouTube videos.

“What you don’t realize is that there are a lot of people like me that have been here for six years,” Jackson said. “And once you create that network, it’s almost like people just pull different people in.”

Jackson noted that Henderson is becoming a “new little mecca” for Black-owned businesses.

“A safe space”

Nicci Willis said Black Henderson Nevada garnered some criticism for making its Facebook group private.

“We are not meaning to exclude people,” she said. “I want to be clear, what we’re doing is we are trying to maintain a safe space for Black people that live, work and do business in Henderson.”

Nicci Willis said keeping the Facebook group private allows the group’s three administrators to strictly enforce the rules and maintain the page’s status as a “safe space” for members. Black Henderson Nevada’s rules are to be kind and courteous on the page, no hate speech or bullying, respect the privacy of its members, keep the focus on Black excellence within the community and limit promotional posts to only Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The founders and group members say those involved has been committed to keeping Black Henderson Nevada positive, and that positivity has continued even as the community has grown. The group also helped some people decide to move to Henderson after joining, Nicci Willis said.

“The fact that it is now growing, and people are even considering moving here because of the type of community that we have, and because they find Black Henderson so helpful and so resourceful, it’s encouraging,” she said.

Contact Mark Credico at mcredico@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCredicoII.

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