ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Several African American trailblazers were featured at a Black History Month kick off event Friday hosted by Shiloh Community Development.
Live performances and art pieces by local artists welcomed people to the Bear Tooth Theatrepub where the event was held, as ten local pioneers who made a difference were honored in the form of vignettes highlighting their accomplishments.
One of them, Richard Watts, was just 16 years old when he paved the way for African American employment in Alaska, after a boycott in 1963 led him to become the first African American hired by Carrs Quality Center.
"There was the weight of the whole African American Community on my back, and I had to be the best at everything I did," said Watts. "When I was the bagger, I had to be the best. As a checker, I had to be the fastest, and that there gives me a lot of pride."
After 53 years with the company, Watts retired in a statewide management position with the company, leaving a legacy for African American business leaders. Watts was one of ten trailblazers featured at the event, along with these others who've made a difference in Alaska:
- Mahala Ashley Dickerson was the first African American attorney admitted to the Bar in Alaska.
- John S. Parks is seen as the father of public transportation, credited with making the People Mover what it is today.
- Ed Rhodes was the first African American to become an Alaska State Trooper.
- Dr. Etheldra Sampson Davis was the first African American school teacher, and later principal, in Alaska.
- Rev. Alonzo Patterson was the first African American to lead an Alaskan church for more than 45 years.
- The men of the African American Engineer Regiment were honored for their work on the ALCAN.
- Sen. Bettye Davis was the first African American elected to serve in the Alaska House of Representatives.
- Dr. Josh Wright was Alaska's first African American dentist.
- Blanche Louise Preston McSmith was the first African American to serve in the Alaska legislature.
The vignettes were made with the help of several young African American Students in Alaska.
"Without your history, there is no future," said Executive Director of Shiloh Community Development, Celeste Hodge Growden. "You don't know your past. So it's important for our young people to know the history, and that's why it was important for Shiloh Community Development to make sure that our youth were involved in the creation and the development of the vignettes."
As for Richard Watts, he hopes his legacy will continue to serve as an example for young African Americans, and all youth to never stop reaching for your dreams, and continue to make a difference.
"For this nation and this state to move forward, we have to be very diverse, and we have to include all nationalities," Watts said. "Working together in harmony, we can help move this state and nation together."
Here's a list of other events hosted by Shiloh Community Development honoring Black History Month:
"Everyday is a Good Day to Workout"
Saturday, February 9th at 10:30 a.m., YMCA 5353 Lake Otis Pkwy
"Bettye Davis African American Summit"
Saturday, February 16th from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Clark Middle School
Saturday, February 23rd at 12:30 p.m., Fairview Recreation Center
"Storytime with the Kids"
Sunday, February 24th at 3 p.m., Barnes and Noble
More information can be found on the Shiloh Community Development website
The vignettes, this event, and all other Black History Month events are made possible by a grant to the Shiloh Community Development Corporation from the Alaska Community Foundation.
KTUU's production department had a hand in creating the vignettes under that grant.