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Activists striving for racial justice: Roxann McCoy, NAACP Las Vegas

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Roxann McCoy
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

NAACP President Roxann McCoy never set out to become a social justice organizer. She had a regular job in the mortgage business. But it was there McCoy found a reason to go into advocacy. “I realized that there were not a lot of African American homeowners,” McCoy says. Digging further, she discovered educational disparities and systemic injustices.

“My heart just lit up to say, ‘What can I do to help make a difference there,’” McCoy says. “That’s what brought me to the NAACP. They were being changemakers in this community, and I wanted to be part of the change.”

Fast-forward, and McCoy has spent 12 years with the Las Vegas NAACP, the past seven as president. She oversees the local branch of the organization, which fights for social, political, educational, health and environmental justice. The group works to achieve equity for all people of color.

“It really is a huge job,” McCoy says. “I don’t think that you could really get the total gravity of it unless you’re in it, because I didn’t until I was in it.”

Even as she helps the organization navigate such big-picture issues as today’s historic social justice movement, McCoy is helping locals with the small-scale challenges of daily life in Southern Nevada: employment issues, discrimination, harassment, the way students of color are disproportionately suspended. She recently worked to get Las Vegas City Councilwoman Michele Fiore to step down from her position as mayor pro tem.

Though Black Lives Matter has recently exploded into the national zeitgeist, McCoy and her organization have been toiling “in the trenches” for years, especially in terms of advocating for police reform. McCoy says that through their conversations, Metro police have restricted neck restraints to the last level of force. “We really wanted them to ban it all together, but they at least moved the needle,” McCoy says, adding that the NAACP was instrumental in demanding police body cameras.

The current moment has given McCoy a chance to zoom out and take stock of all that the NAACP has accomplished here. “In Las Vegas, our NAACP is light years ahead of what the other agencies across the country are doing in terms of what we are demanding of our police departments,” McCoy says.

McCoy says she has found that the best way to achieve success is through building relationships across the community. “We don’t have to agree … but we have to sit at the table and have the tough conversations in order to move the needle,” McCoy says. “We’ve been willing to have the tough conversations.”

For information about the Las Vegas NAACP, visit naacplasvegas.com.

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