His name is Vance Sanders, but in Las Vegas, he’s known as Minister Stretch.
Born and raised in Chicago by a single mom, the 25-year-old minister, organizer and activist fled to Las Vegas in 2010, because, he says, the violence in his hometown was “getting out of hand.”
After a short stint playing college basketball in Washington, Sanders moved back to Las Vegas and began organizing full time. “I knew that my purpose was activism,” Sanders tells the Weekly.
In 2014, the then-19-year old minister started his first organization, All Shades United, a community outreach initiative focused on bringing people of all walks of life together. In 2015, Sanders organized his first protest, following the death of Sandra Bland inside a Texas prison; he has organized numerous protests and rallies since.
With All Shades United shelved for now, Sanders hopes to uplift the community through another project, New Era Las Vegas, which launched last year. Originating in Detroit, New Era has a nationwide goal of helping to create a Black-owned community through grassroots resources and collective buying power.
“We’re aiming to create Black-owned and operated schools, banks, grocery stores, hospitals, law offices, recreation centers and more,” the New Era Detroit website reads.
As the founding president of New Era’s Las Vegas chapter, Sanders has organized protests, hosted barbecues and fed community members in need. “New Era is living proof that if you just get out and do it, it can be done,” Sanders says.
To fight all-too-common activist fatigue, Sanders says he doesn’t think of his social justice work as a job. It’s his way of life. “Find ways to enjoy it,” he says. “When it becomes a job, you get burned out.”
With his busy schedule and tenacious work ethic, the newly married Sanders says he has to “be creative” when figuring out ways to take care of his family. When he isn’t organizing or giving sermons as a youth minister at Greater Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church, Sanders drives for Uber and Lyft, sells life insurance and is currently pursuing a real estate license.
But his dedication to greater causes never falters. “We have to vote. We have to organize. We have to be engaged in the community,” Sanders says. “I don’t want Black people—or people in general—in jail,” he says.
As a result, the young minister’s activism starts at a local level. Through the weekly Hood to Hood initiative, New Era Las Vegas members bring food, toiletries, COVID-19 supplies and more to different neighborhoods, alleviating basic needs. His goal, he says, is to create healthier, more connected communities.
“A protest means nothing when folks don’t come to the protest because they don’t have food to eat,” Sanders says. “Poverty, capitalism, homelessness—these were issues that most of us did not really protest, so I wanted to change my perspective. I wanted to make sure our mission was not just about fighting for individual races to be free, but fighting for people in general. We can’t defeat the race struggle [first]. We have to defeat the class struggle.”
While some people are just waking up to the realities of systemic racism, Sanders says Black liberation has always been his goal: “To liberate Black people, oppressed people, and all people who want to be part of a great beloved community, as Dr. King described,” he says. “Everything we do is about the future.”
For information on New Era or the Hood to Hood program, follow @neweralasvegas on Instagram.