Las Vegas Sun

September 16, 2019

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Festival welcomes leaders, celebrates black culture



Deborah Porter, second from left, and Jessica Washington, second from right, stand with participants at the Barbershop Talk event hosted by Robert “Twix” Taylor on Feb. 8.

Deborah Porter and Jessica Washington met as activists in the community, and the pair combined forces to do something bigger than ever before. The result was the I Love Being Black Festival, a celebration of black culture, history, identity, sexuality and entertainment throughout the month of February. Bringing in community leaders like André Wade, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Community Center, and sexologist TaMara Griffin, Porter and Washington have curated a variety of events with the goal of bringing people together, supporting one another and heightening black visibility in Las Vegas.

Tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Deborah Porter: I’ve been in Las Vegas about 15 years, and I’ve worked in marketing during that time. I also write erotica on the side — that’s kind of my passion. So marketing pays the bills, and erotica keeps me interesting.

Jessica Washington: I’m a spoken-word artist in Las Vegas, and I have an organization called Black Girls Inspire. I’m an advocate for Autism Speaks, and I do a lot of work in the community. I just performed in the Women’s March.

How did you come together to start this festival?

Porter: I was very critical of some of the leadership and community activists, particularly the traditional black organizations that I felt weren’t doing enough. So one day I was just like, “How long are you going to ... moan about what they’re not doing and get involved yourself?” We felt like Black History Month had become kind of passé. There was nothing done — outside of the Martin Luther King parade — that was a staple that really involved the community, spoke to us and gave us an opportunity to showcase one another, or to talk about [issues like] being black and gay.

Washington: The local contribution of African-Americans is not recognized, so I felt we needed to recognize ourselves. We can’t always wait to be recognized by everyone else.

What are some of the successes from events that have already happened?

Porter: We had a racism discussion, which was really good. We said if we can get 20 or 30 people in the room to talk about racism, we’ve done a good job. In the end, we had about 35 people show up, and we actually had more whites and other minorities than blacks. It is such a difficult conversation that to find people who are brave enough was amazing. We need to have more of those conversations, because it’s the only way we’re going to heal and move forward. We can’t keep sweeping it under the rug saying, “OK, let’s get over it.”

What do you think the takeaway was?

Porter: There was a little more understanding that how you were raised plays a tremendous part in your interaction as an adult. A lot of people talked about, “I grew up this way.” There was a woman who said she grew up in a household where the “N” word was used. It wasn’t until she went away to college that she realized, “Wait a minute. We’re not supposed to say that.” I think people walked away saying, “You aren’t born racist, you aren’t born prejudiced.”

The festival also dovetails into March for National Women’s History Month.

Porter: We’ve partnered with the 100 Black Women Las Vegas chapter to do an A Seat at the Table event March 3. We’re bringing black women together to talk about supporting and helping each other, because there’s this stereotype that black women can’t work together—the whole

“angry black woman” sterotype. We want to dispel that. And we added a piece on voter registration, because this year is going to be critical. Maybe if we come together collectively, we can really bring about change.

What are some of the main issues facing black women and black voters in Las Vegas?

Porter: Police reform. We say this all the time. We tend to carry the burden of the crime. If someone goes out and robs a bank, and he’s arrested or shot and killed by police, it always tends to be on black women to pick up the pieces, to bail him out of jail, to bury him, to care for children. Why does it always fall to women to pick up the pieces? To be that backbone? So, police reform. Certainly, education. The wage disparity. The list goes on.

What do you hope people take away from the festival?

Washington: Just bringing the African-American community together under one umbrella. I would love to see an African-American Arts Council come out of this. People think Black History Month is all about being woke, but everything doesn’t have to be serious. It’s about having fun as well. I want to be black and have fun (laughs).

Porter: There’s more to us; we are complex and layered. There’s more to black history than Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks — not to take anything away from their accomplishments. There’s so many layers about us that we want to share. Next year’s going to be bigger and better.