From growing up in the segregated west side of Las Vegas to befriending governors and presidents, one of this year’s Red Cross Heroes stands head and shoulders above the crowd.
Meet Hannah Brown who is being honored for a lifetime of blazing race and gender trails with smiles, laughter, and determination.
How do you talk about someone who’s more than an everyday hero, yet would never dream of describing herself that way?
“For some reason, I’ve always thought everybody should be my friend,” Brown said.
For Brown, it begins with a bubbly personality even her mom kidded her about
“My mother used to say, ‘you’d speak to a signpost if it would answer you,'” Brown said. “And I said, “it doesn’t have to answer! I’ll speak anyway!'”
And speak she did: Even when she was in uncharted waters in her first year of high school, which was 1954 the year that Rancho High School opened. A friend told her that she should run for student office.
“And I looked around, and there were probably 15 black kids, and everybody else was white, and it scared me half to death, and I thought ‘oh, no, there’s no way I would ever get elected.'” “She said, ‘I’ll be your campaign manager, and you won’t have any problem winning.’ So I thought, ‘well, if she’s gonna be my campaign manager, then let’s go!'”
Later, at Western Airlines, Hannah started from the bottom and worked her way up.
“Entry level position,” according to Brown. “I was answering the phone, ‘Western Airline Reservations, Miss Brown.’ The most boring job I’ve ever had.”
But subtle forms of race and gender issues popped up when what had been a routine application process turned out a little differently.
“When the supervisor’s position became available they decided they would make me take a test,” Brown said. “I see. Well, of course, we passed that test.”
I’ve always been aware of things. But then, I just never; I was never able to allow that to say, ‘well, I’m not going to try because.'”
Even after it became ok for black people to visit the Strip, it took an economic reality to overcome some lingering resentment
“I can remember going into the lounges to see the shows and by the time they got to the last song they’d throw a napkin down in front of you and ask if they could take your order,” Brown said. “Well, you’ve already seen the show, so we saved a hell of a lot of money, and I think they realized that after a while, you know, these people are coming in here seeing the shows free, so they did start serving us.”
Brown talks about local black history to the Metro Chamber of Commerce “Leadership Las Vegas” groups.
“They always ask me to talk about growing up and living in segregated Las Vegas,” Brown said. “Well, then, of course, the blood runs out of everybody’s face and I look at them, and I say, ‘well, look, I can either make this doom and gloom, or I can make it fun.’ And if you’ve known me 10 minutes we are going to have fun.”
In 1991 Brown was named one of Ebony Magazine’s “Most Promising Black Women in Corporate America. She has certainly lived up to that, going on to become President of the Las Vegas Urban Chamber of Commerce
“You do what you do because it’s the right thing to do,” Brown said. And when someone notices and you receive a phone call, and they say ‘we’ve discussed naming our CDC after you,’ the Community Development Corporation because of the work that I had done with the chamber. It still kind of blows you away.”
I have a happy heart. I want to be happy. And I want you to be happy being around me,” Brown said. “I thank God for that. Sometimes, if I’m overwhelmed, I’ll look in the mirror, and I’ll say ‘thank you, Lord, for making me the person that you made me. I didn’t make myself.'”
8 News NOW salutes and thanks Hannah Brown, as she receives the American Red Cross Everyday Hero Lifetime Achievement Award.