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West Las Vegas Library site of Fair Housing Act lesson

It has been over 50 years since the Fair Housing Act was passed as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the housing market based on race, color, religion and national origin — and, years later, sex, disability and familial status.

“We always hope that when you know about the past you won’t repeat those mistakes,” said Kate Zook, the executive director at the Reno-based Silver State Fair Housing Council, “but that doesn’t always happen. People are always going to be challenged and people are always going to be somewhat afraid of things that are different.

“We have a housing discrimination testing program kind of like secret shoppers, and we pay volunteers to go out and play the role of a person seeking housing. We see a lot of discrepancies in what people are told.”

Zook headed an event on April 2 at the West Las Vegas Library theater that celebrated and provided information about the Fair Housing Act. About 30 people attended. Bernie Kleina, photographer and founding board member of the National Fair Housing Alliance, discussed his involvement in the civil rights movement and, later, the fair housing market.

Kleina, 83, recalled traveling to Selma, Alabama, in 1965 to photograph Martin Luther King Jr. and being jailed. A photo exhibit in the lobby of the theater displayed some of Kleina’s civil rights era images.

“Every day in Selma we spent a great time at the Brown Chapel learning about what was going on and how to change things,” Kleina told attendees. “I went after I saw the way marchers were being tear-gassed and trampled by horses and posse men. I didn’t know what I’d do, but I couldn’t do nothing. It changed my life.”

He said in an interview from his Chicago-area home that he headed to Alabama from that region as an amateur — a “nothing” photographer at the time, he joked.

“Sometimes ignorance is bliss,” he said of his start in documenting history. “I tell people that if you wait until you think you’re completely qualified, it may be too late. So I encourage people to just do it.

“Before I took those photos, I just took photos of families and vacations. That’s why I photographed in color as opposed to all the professional photographers at that time, who only shot in black and white because that’s how you got in newspapers and magazines and so on. Now I have something that no one else in the world has.”

Zook said the purpose of the April 2 event was to raise consciousness about fair housing rights and responsibilities — to let people in the community know about their rights.

“I’m the property manager of a 55-plus community, and I’ve been in this for about 27 years,” said Valerie Mason of central Las Vegas. “Fair housing is very important for people like myself — our seniors. There’s many people who’ve had a bad break earlier in life and it tends to follow them into housing, which blocks opportunities for them.”

Contact Mia Sims at msims@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0298. Follow @miasims___ on Twitter. Staff writer Brian Sandford contributed to this report.

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