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15 honored as Clark County Commission celebrates Black History Month

Updated February 8, 2023 - 8:08 pm

Fifteen Black residents were honored by Clark County commissioners on Tuesday for their advocacy and work in Las Vegas during a ceremony celebrating Black History Month.

“Black history is American history,” Commissioner Jim Gibson said in a recorded message. “Let us remember those who fought for equality and for a better tomorrow and celebrate those who continue this important work to shape our community and our nation today.”

Commissioners spoke of the importance of Black history in Las Vegas during a video shown at the meeting.

“We have come so far,” Commissioner Tick Segerblom said in the video. “When I was growing up, we were known as the Mississippi of the West. African American entertainers on the Strip couldn’t stay on the Strip. We were very segregated. Today, we’re much more integrated, much more involved, but the truth is we have so much more to go.”

Ruby Duncan received a standing ovation at the event. She is credited for her anti-poverty work, including organizing a group of 200 women to speak at the Legislature in the 1970s, championing for welfare, nutrition programs and food stamps in Nevada through the nonprofit Operation Life.

Duncan and other co-founders of Operation Life did more to combat poverty “than anybody in our state’s history,” Commissioner Ross Miller said. “Nevada at that time was the Mississippi of the West and Ruby took that on, head-on, and established a nutrition program, food stamps, went up to the Legislature and fought tough battles and endured some very significant intimidation.”

Duncan first thanked Gibson for his father’s work getting welfare programs into Nevada. She said Sen. James Gibson and Sen. Mahlon Brown championed the effort to bring food stamps to impoverished families in the state.

“If it wouldn’t have been for your father and Sen. Brown at the time, they are the ones that made sure that food stamps came into the state of Nevada,” Duncan said.

Pastor Sam Roberson was honored for his contributions to Henderson. Roberson worked as the pastor of Community Baptist Church, on Foster Avenue, from February 1977 to December 2022. He also served as the president of the NAACP and a co-organizer of the Urban Chamber of Commerce.

The commission credited Roberson with developing much of the infrastructure around East Lake Mead Parkway and Boulder Highway, including affordable housing at the Smith-Williams Senior Apartments.

“I was here when it was segregated,” Roberson said “We had sent for Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) to come in 1960.”

He said he is hoping someone will construct a cultural center next for Black residents in Henderson.

County employees Briana Johnson and Debbie Conway were honored for nearly 60 years of combined work in the assessor’s office and recorder’s office, respectively.

The first Black president of labor union SEIU, Michelle Maese spoke of the people who helped her get to her newly elected position. She asked a man named Mr. Harris to stand while she spoke.

Maese said the man was North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Belinda Harris’ father and an SEIU member. The union turned him away in 1977 because of his race, but Maese said he continued to push until he was admitted to the union in 1978.

“In 1979 I was born,” she said. “You are the reason I am here today. Thank you for continuing to fight.”

The following people also were honored:

Renita Brown, manager at John Mull’s Meat &Road Kill Grill.

Velma McClinton, a 37-year-old U.S. Postal Service employee and a coordinator with Get Out the Vote.

Audrey Branch, treasurer for the Nevada chapter of the National Association of Minority Contractors and chairman of the North Las Vegas Art Recreation and Cultural Advisory Board.

Carter Lee, a 7-year-old classroom leader in the Las Vegas YMCA’s Power Scholars Academy.

Marie Ray Scott, a 30-year business owner of food and beverage stores in Harry Reid International Airport.

Quentin-Michael Savwoir, the youngest president elected to the NAACP at 36.

Leslie Turner, co-director of the Mass Liberation Project of Nevada and leader of Black Mamas Bail Out.

Erika Washington, founder of Make It Work Nevada and an advocate who ultimately got paid sick leave passed in the Nevada Legislature.

Kasina Douglass-Boone, founder of TULIPS, a nonprofit that stands for Teaching, Uniting Ladies to Inspire Positive Success. The organization assists mothers in education, health and financial disparities through pregnancy and early motherhood.

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Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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