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Plenty of reasons and opportunities to celebrate

Posted: February 12, 2012 - 1:03am
In this 2010 photo, Claudia and James Page, founding members of Juneau's Black Awareness Association, stand with current president, Sherry Patterson, right, at the BAA's annual soul food dinner, an event that brings the community together and raises funds for scholarships.  Courtesy of Sherry Patterson
Courtesy of Sherry Patterson
In this 2010 photo, Claudia and James Page, founding members of Juneau's Black Awareness Association, stand with current president, Sherry Patterson, right, at the BAA's annual soul food dinner, an event that brings the community together and raises funds for scholarships.

Juneau has reason to celebrate this month along with Juneau’s Black Awareness Association as the community honors Black History Month. There will be opportunities to fill bellies with food, ears with music and hearts with joy at some upcoming events, like a soul food dinner and a gospel workshop.

Juneau has had a Black Awareness Association since 1994, Sherry Patterson, president of the association said.

“It was started by a small group of African Americans who saw the need to keep our culture alive here and to educate. Our culture, who we are, those dreams.”

The association sponsors three main events each year. The first, celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was a collaboration with the University of Alaska Southeast in January. This month, celebrating Black History Month, the soul food dinner is the largest event held each year.

The soul food dinner is a large undertaking, Patterson explained. Members of the BAA prepare the entire meal, enough to serve the 200 guests she estimates attend each year. Feeding 200 is a feat in itself, but more so with a menu this mouth-watering.

The menu includes fried catfish, fried chicken, barbecue ribs, greens, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, yams, potato salad, peach cobbler and sweet potato pie. Along with the good food and good company, attendees would also get a quick sneak peak at the choir group involved in the Gospel workshop, a collaboration with UAS, the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council, and the BAA.

There will be more music than just the sneak peak. As it turns out, Patterson is a vocalist herself and will perform. She’s not quite sure what she’ll perform yet, but there should be no doubts it will be good.

In years past, the soul food event has been a tremendous hit in Juneau, Patterson said.

“People start calling in November, ‘What’s that event? When is it? I need to mark it on my calendar.’”

The event isn’t just about food and community — it is a fundraiser for the association’s scholarship fund.

Black Americans have a rich history in the state of Alaska, playing a large role in the military and in the infrastructure of the state. Most prominently in history, more than 10,000 soldiers from the Army Corps of Engineers were assigned to build the Alaska-Canada Highway (Alcan), which stretches 1,520 miles from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction. The 93rd, 95th and 97th Engineer General Service Regiments and the 388th Engineer Battalion were African American troops assigned to the oil pipeline that supplied fuel for the planes, military vehicles and construction equipment for the project. The Alcan was completed in just over eight months.

In more recent history, Patterson noted Sen. Bettye Davis of Anchorage is consistently doing good work.

“I’ve known her for over 30 years and she’s from Louisiana like I am. I think she’s from the rough side of the tracks, so she knows how to fight for Alaskans — no matter what color.”

Of black history in Alaska, Patterson says she is proud and grateful.

The BAA hosts one other major event, which happens June 19th. The event is Juneteenth, which celebrates the day slaves in Galveston, Tex. found out about their freedom, June 19, 1865, 2 ½ years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

The BAA does not have monthly meetings, though they keep in touch year-round. Patterson says the group starts meeting with frequency in October so they can arrange for the events in January and February. It lets up again until Juneteenth nears.

Whether one is celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Black History Month or Juneteenth, Patterson explained there is reason to celebrate.

“People might wonder why we celebrate Black History Month — we celebrate people crossing the line and fulfilling dreams, and after the struggles… we choose to rise and go for our hopes, visions, dreams — and celebrate those who came before us and those who died and bled so we would have this opportunity to celebrate.”

To celebrate Black History Month with the BAA and the rest of the Juneau community mark those calendars with these upcoming events.

The Black Awareness Association Soul Food Dinner will be 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 18 at the Tlingit and Haida Community Center by Bartlett Regional Hospital. Tickets are available in advance at Hearthside Books and online at JAHC.org for $23 adults / $13 students or at the door for $25 adults / $15 students. Children under 5 attend free. For more information, contact Sherry Patterson at 957-0630.

The Gospel Workshop takes place Feb. 14-18 with a celebrations featuring gospel performances on Feb. 19 at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center. Prices for the performance are $15 general / $10 student or senior / $5 pre-K or UAS student. For more information about the workshop or performance, visit JAHC.org.

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