In 2010, The Westside School Alumni Foundation (WSAF) was founded to preserve the historic Westside School site, educate the public on its history and value, and to encourage the development of the vacant school as a cultural destination. The Westside School, which opened in 1923, was the first Las Vegas school to open its doors to African American and Native American students.
WSAF members and City officials began exploring the idea of restoring the school for the good of the community. Preserving the physical structure was important, however, the desire to make the school alive with memories, smells, sounds, and stories of years gone by was equally important. This is how “Our Stories Project,” a manuscript in preparation for a book about Las Vegas history, began.
One of the first major projects for the WSAF was the development of a book. The book detailed the history of the school and surrounding neighborhood as told by the people who lived it. Photos, artifacts, and personal memorabilia were collected to provide context and insight.
Billed as a major community event, the book launch included City and County officials and the community; it was held on the Westside at a non-profit agency, Nevada Partners. Close to 300 stakeholders were served lunch, and then received their pre-purchased books. All proceeds from book sales were returned to the community in the form of educational stipends and scholarships for youth; the goal was to further educational equity efforts through civic engagement with this important project.
To ensure the community’s input and involvement, WSAF reached out to their alumni and other community stakeholders to spread the word and invite them to attend the workshops and forums. Generating enthusiasm for the project occurred via word of mouth, social networking, local radio talk shows, and churches.
In 2016, the City passed a community development plan intent on revitalizing the Westside School community. The community was highly engaged in the visioning process and encouraged to attend meetings and contribute ideas. The resulting plans from this process were incorporated into the Las Vegas 2035 Downton Master Plan, making it an official city council-approved document to be incorporated into future development.
Many benefits were derived from the book. A police officer who purchases books as gifts for his fellow officers exclaimed that every officer who polices the Westside community should have a copy. He said, “How can you police a people if you don’t understand their history?”
In May 2013, the WSAF received the priceless Historic Preservation Award from the Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission. It reads in part, “In recognition of the “Westside School Alumni Stories: Our School, Our Community, Our Time” book, which is a valuable resource for all citizens about the contributions of the historic Westside School and its students to the development of Las Vegas.”
Also, this Westside community continues to work closely and strategically with the City of Las Vegas to help solve the community’s complex challenges. The “Our Stories” book project helped to pave the road for a solid collaboration of working toward significant future infrastructure improvements and innovative collective progress for the Historic Westside.
Timeline of Project: Since 2010
Initiator: The Westside School Alumni Foundation (WSAF)
Westside School Alumni Foundation
Las Vegas, NV– 2018 AAC Winner: Presentation
Brenda J. Williams