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Feb 24 2016

Councilman Ricki Barlow's Fishing DerbyPosted By Thomas Chee - 02/24/16

Fishing Derby with Councilman Ricki Barlow

 Sammy Davis Jr.

Sammy Davis Junior was a true Las Vegas icon. In his autobiography, Davis writes about the challenges of performing in Las Vegas. Davis pens a tale of a time when Frank Sinatra was penniless without a home or a job. Davis saw Sinatra walking aimlessly broke after his voice failed. Sammy Davis Jr. was driving north when he saw Frank Sinatra to stay in the Moulin Rouge, because the Moulin Rouge was the only resort that was allowed to serve black visitors. No whites walked the streets, which is why Frank Sinatra stood out. Opening in 1955, the hotel was known as the first desegregated hotel. All the African American entertainers collaborated in the hallways, because blacks were not allowed to walk the casino floors or gambling parlors if they were performing inside a casino; Ella Fitzgerald, Red Foxx, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong. Sarann Kinght-Preddy, the owner, was the first African American woman to gain a Gaming License in the State of Nevada – Again this was another remarkable first step in the history of the United States as I chronicle many “Firsts” that took place in this area of the city. Frank Sinatra fought vigorously to stop segregation against blacks when he became a great crooner. Sinatra always helped African American gain strength in their civil rights. He was a close friend of Sammy Davis Jr. Sammy Davis Jr. Plaza is a special place in Lorenzi Park. In 2015, a street was named after Mr. Davis. Sammy Davis Jr. Drive was honored by the community that loves him. The ceremony attracted leaders from around the city.  


Lorenzi Park and Moulin Rouge


Two miles away from the original Moulin Rouge, Lorenzi Park was a pond of water that the first settlers used titled the Twin Lakes. The springs attracted David Lorenzi to Las Vegas from France in 1911. The lakes he built to remind Lorenzi of his hometown in France developed into one of the original parks in the City of Las Vegas because the landscape was right down the street from the famous Fremont Street Experience. There were no parks for children in this community. By 1926, Lorenzi Park sprouted the fruit orchards for families with apple trees for shade. Soon a swimming pool was designed for hot summer months. Another first step, for many children, the Lorenzi Park swimming pool would be the only swimming pool they would ever play in. In the same way, thanks to Ricki Barlow, the fishing pools during Barlow’s derby will be the first fishing experience for many children. Lake Mead was far away. African American children in the Fifties were not allowed to swim in swimming pools with whites, especially in the casinos. Dancing soon followed as a pavilion was erected for dancing. Dancing was popular at night in the cool evening breeze. Concerts were given for children at night. Kids with parents learned to row boats while eating ice cream by day. Folks that raised families in Las Vegas tell stories about riding horses throughout the trails provided by Lorenzi Park as the park was first opened to the public. Mayor Carolyn Goodman rode her horses through Lorenzi Park after her husband, Oscar, moved to Las Vegas to practice law as a Defense Attorney.  


Back to School with Ricki Barlow


My first introduction to Lorenzi Park came in the way of Councilman Ricki Barlow giving parents school supplies in August with free backpacks and books for when the children returned to school. Named the Back to School with Barlow event, that early morning was a day of first for many children, because many of the young children were going to school for the first time, getting free donuts with chocolate milk from Krispy Kreme for the first time and playing in Lorenzi Park for the first time. The sky was still dark when Ricki Barlow’s team arranged the tables, which were spread out with speakers for announcements, music, stages for the children. Donuts were being wrapped. Bottled water had to be brought in. Hundreds of thousands of people were given water as the thousands stood in line to prepare their kids for school. The summer was hot that year in 2015 as climate change climbed. Most of the children had never been to Lorenzi Park, especially after summer’s scathingly, high temperatures. Las Vegas always attracts new people from around the planet. War between Ukraine and Russia, the neighborhood attracts families from Russia. Problems in Syria, the Entertainment Capital brought Syrian families from the charities near Owens that sought refugee status. The City of Las Vegas brings families from the nation’s cities expecting heavy snow in the winter. These children had no money to buy school supplies. Parents walked miles pushing strollers through unknown sidewalks. I arrived as the sky was still dark. I left five hours after sunrise when Ricki Barlow and his team were still organizing blocks of tables to arrange backpacks to be given to the kids. Still after five hours of handing out school supplies, parents were still just arriving as I drove out of the parking lot only to head down the street to the highway. As the dawn’s sun rose, the line of parents with children was beyond a mile. I took photographs to prove the numbers. Still growing, the children were given what they would need to prepare for a successful school year.


Lorenzi Park Fishing Derby  


Councilman Ricki Barlow makes sure that the lake is stocked for his Fishing Derby starting March 5, 2016. For many children, their experience fishing at Lorenzi Park will be their first adventure with fish outside of a restaurant. This reminds me of a story about dairy cows in Harlem. When I was living in Harlem up the street from the Cotton Club, elementary school children were taken out of New York City for field trips to the farms in rural areas north of the city metropolis. For children in small neighborhoods, these farms were their first time seeing farm land for raising crops like corn, sugar beets, and chicken coops were completely new. Barns with horses, sheep and cattle surprised the children. When introduced to the cow barn, the instructor explained, “This is where milk is made. Cows make milk.” The children sat puzzled in disbelief, “Milk comes from cows? Milk comes from the store up the street. In containers. Plastic.” The children had no experience with dairy cattle. The concept of milking cows was new to them.


Fishing is new for children in Las Vegas, Nevada. Many children that attend Ricki Barlow’s Fishing Derby have never held a sharp hook, thread a fishing hook with a thin invisible string, held tiny metal weights for holding down bait. The entire training exercise is surreal. Lakes are rare on heated desert streets named Sahara and Desert Inn. The irony is that some of the best seafood, especially fried catfish, can be found a few blocks away from Lorenzi Park in restaurants located in the same Ward like the Seven Seas across from Doolittle Park and grocery stores that sell fresh, fried catfish like Mario’s Westside Market on Martin Luther and Lake Mead. I know UNLV students that find friends that will drive them across town to Mario’s Westside Market once a week for the fried catfish fillets served up each day at Mario’s.


Councilman Ricki Barlow is introducing children to the great outdoors with fishing as an extra incentive. Combine that learning experience with a free continental breakfast, brown bag lunch, prizes attached to a raffle. Ricki Barlow is handing out 250 fishing poles to children, because most kids new to the game are completely baffled by a pole used for taunting fish to bite for sport.


Ward 5 continues to improve. During the Great Recession, my friends would take me to Mario’s Westside Market. Other than the McDonalds, there were few developments, but now the area is expanding.  First our friends in the neighborhood were delighted to have a store open, Dollar General Store. Today the business intersection hosts a state of the art Starbucks next door to El Pollo Loco. One important secret to reveal, four years ago, early each weekday morning, Monday through Friday, a group of men gather at the McDonalds to talk about politics. These gentleman discuss all the major events in the City of Las Vegas. To keep me sharp, I would purchase a breakfast sandwich as early as six a.m. to listen. I ate with my left hand and wrote with my right as the stories surrounding the city poured out inside the McDonalds on Lake Mead and Martin Luther King.