Drew’s Notebook: Las Vegas

Momma graduated from high school 45 years ago, and her class celebrated in Las Vegas last weekend.

In 2019, at her 40th reunion in Tallulah, Louisiana – her hometown – some sparks of this idea crackled. After years of planning and coordination, it was now the reality.

My parents and niece made it to Las Vegas the day before my sister and I arrived. My niece just narrowly missed the last reunion by a few months, and she was eager to make up for it.

I have personally become enamored with Black Southern high school reunion culture over time. Even as a child, I recall various relatives running into their classmates across Tallulah, and these encounters always triggered beautiful moments of nostalgia.

Tallulah undoubtedly still anchors the members of the Reuben McCall High School Class of 1979, but the winds of life certainly blew people in different directions. A number of her classmates ended up in Las Vegas to establish themselves and build their lives. It brought to mind some of the patterns of the Great Migration, and it also mirrors the wisdom that one can find a home in places where other family members have taken preliminary strides.

Although I arrived very late in the evening on Friday, it didn’t take long for us to jump into the action. My niece greeted me with a big hug when she realized I was there, and we got ready as Robin Hood played on Freeform. We walked through the casino section of the Grand Downtown a couple hours later, and we were ready to take on the day.

I’d been to Vegas once before for a work conference five and a half years ago, and it was interesting to both experience it anew and witness it through the eyes of my family members. As we drew closer to brunch, we took in the animated screens above us, with fellow travelers gliding across on zip lines. We saw artists drawing pictures of couples and casino employees offering deals for various shows. The spirited nature of this unique city took almost no time to fully register.

We sat down for breakfast and greeted various other members of Momma’s class – and their families. Momma served on a committee to coordinate the events of the weekend; one of her fellow leaders, Frank Stafford, brought Jimmy Jones around to greet everyone. Mr. Jones is a 79-year-old retired NBA player from Tallulah who is based in Las Vegas, and his recollections of my mother’s family brought to mind the same warmth that I’ve experienced countless times in northeast Louisiana.

Due to the large party, it was difficult to seat everyone together. After we finished our meals, my parents, sister, niece, and I returned to the walkway of many sights as other members of the class got seated. We all noticed the artists who were drawing portraits, and we waited in line for a bit. My sister and niece danced to the upbeat tunes, and – once we clarified that it would be $20 per person for the price – we elected to pass.

We eventually went to sit with a large group of Momma’s classmates. We ordered dessert as they finished their entrees, and my niece played with various new friends from the crew. We ventured back to the hotel room to get a nap in prior to the all-white banquet that was scheduled for the evening.


Several hours later, we found ourselves in a similar position as we navigated the ground floor of the hotel & casino. We veered right where we had previously turned left, and we discovered the banquet room. Striking blue & gold decorations appeared everywhere, with a nod to the colors of the high school. The DJ set up and started playing Maxwell. My niece reflected the personality she shares with me, and she quickly made her way to the dance floor. For the next few hours, she comfortably moved through the space, allowing her joyous grooves to spread happiness around.

Various members of the class prayed, showed presentations, and honored their deceased comrades while we shared a meal. We held the beauty & pain of the night in equal parts, as anyone must do.

We spent the last day of the trip visiting the New Jerusalem Worship Center on Sunday morning, and we stopped by the Shark Bay Aquarium in Mandalay Bay before heading to the airport.

It is a joy to take on these experiences, reflecting on the past while planning for the future. Along the uncertain roads of life, it’s comforting to lean on family and community to guide us – with intention – from one stage to the next. My parents, sister, niece, and I are off to North Carolina this week, and I look forward to what that adventure has in store.