Forty years ago, Wendell Williams made history by starting the first Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Las Vegas.
There were only 13 entries that first year of the parade in January 1982. Four decades later, however, the parade draws thousands to downtown Las Vegas, serving as the centerpiece of the valley’s efforts to recognize King’s legacy.
Williams said he is now starting something new and unique modeled after the King parade: a back-to-school celebration emphasizing the importance of education to the Historic Westside’s elementary school kids.
“We want to most of all show the children that education is valued, and we want them to value education,” the former assemblyman said. “It is one of the best things we could do in life. Very exciting.”
The Back-to-School Historic West Las Vegas Parade is scheduled to start the morning of Sept. 17 at 1030 J St. Participants line up at 8 a.m. with the procession commencing at 10 a.m. If all goes as planned, the parade will meander its way to the Edmond Town Center, 1021 W. Owens Ave., where kids will be offered freebies, haircuts and encouraging words about the importance of doing well in school.
“We hope to get the word out to our community,” said Amber “Ambeezy” Blow, an on-air personality and production coordinator at local radio station KCEP Power 88.1 that is working with Williams to get the word out through public service announcements. “We want to make sure the schools and their students on the Westside are aware that this back-to-school parade is happening, where they can show up and so they can benefit from the resources that will be provided at the parade.”
Las Vegas students are already involved in promoting the parade, said Duana “The Tech Queen” Malone, who is executive director of the Nevada Help Desk. The state training provider employs underserved and underrepresented students in the valley by teaching them about cybersecurity digital marketing, mobile app development, cloud communications, computer programming, website development, multimedia and social media.
The Nevada Help Desk has assigned students to develop a website and provide technology support for the new parade.
“I’ve worked on a variety of projects with the Nevada Help Desk including the Martin Luther King Jr. parade, Veterans Day parade,” said local student and Nevada Help Desk employee Meahel Heard-Pitra. “I hope other kids in our community see Nevada Help Desk as an outlet to participate in meaningful events.”
Williams was elected to the Nevada Assembly in 1986 and served in the body until losing the Democratic primary in 2004 to longtime teacher Harvey Munford. His loss was due in large part to a pair of scandals that erupted in 2003.
He was fired from his job at the city of Las Vegas in December 2003 for allegedly accepting $6,700 in pay for hours that he didn’t work while he was serving in Carson City, and for allegedly making more than $1,800 in personal calls on his city-issued cellphone.
Williams also was involved in a scandal at what was then known as the Community College of Southern Nevada, where he persuaded officials to hire his friend Topazia “Briget” Jones.
But Jones allegedly had a spotty attendance record at the college, and showed up in Carson City in 2003 to work as his personal assistant in the Legislature. When the college moved to fire Jones, Williams – then chairman of the Assembly Education Committee – intervened. Jones filed a complaint alleging discrimination and received a $100,000 settlement.
Despite those controversies, Williams has endured as a steadfast advocate for the Historic Westside. He hopes the celebration and parade will become an annual event aimed at benefiting kids.
“I’d love to see the community take this parade and build on it,” he said.