This year's Black History Month celebration, sponsored by Juneau's Black Awareness Association, will celebrate a unique era of music and the first black-owned record company in the United States - Motown.
Called "Motown Karaoke Night," tonight's event starts at 6 p.m. at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall and includes Motown music, a delectable soul food dinner, door prizes, an auction, trivia and more.
"Because black history is so vast, each year we celebrate a different area (or) era," said Sherry Patterson, vice president and events coordinator for the association. "This year we picked Motown and (are) acknowledging 50th year."
According to Patterson, the association holds three celebrations every year: Black History Month, Martin Luther King Day and Juneteenth. In the past, the association also has partnered with other minority groups to celebrate various cultural events. However, for president Kenneth Cook, this month is particularly significant.
"Black History Month is so special for me, because lots of people who don't know a lot about black history get to learn about it," Cook said. "I am willing to bet not 15 people know that a black corps of engineers helped construct the Alaska-Canadian Highway (ALCAN) in World War II - an all-black regiment."
According to Cook, the black men of the 93rd, 95th and 97th regiments and the 388th Battalion of the Corps of Engineers were assigned to Alaska.
"Their 3,695 troops accounted for slightly more than a third of the 10,607 engineers on the highway," he said. "These soldiers made a major contribution to the war effort which, until recently, was not recognized."
Tonight's event will help remember these men and many other black historical figures. For Patterson and her group of a dozen or so assistants, tonight's celebration also helps remember that black culture is a major part of American history.
"Most people think that Dr. King, President Obama and maybe a few famous athletes are it as far as black history is concerned," she said. "But this country was built on the backs of slaves who were dragged away from their native land. Most people are unaware that it was black men who were instrumental in inventing and patenting many things we use every day and take for granted.
"I appreciate this month because we get to display, reflect on and, at the same time, introduce and educate those who do not know of this culture's achievements and contributions."
And to help us remember and honor our nation's black history, the similar facts will be repeated tonight in an entertaining trivia game.
"Last year, we played a black history trivia game, and the crowd loved it," Patterson said. "And we've been asked if we were going to do it again. The answer is yes. That's so rewarding to me."
In addition, KINY's Bob Price will lead motown-themed karaoke, and dinner will include catfish or ribs prepared by Peter Easaw.
"It's a big job, and he comes through for us each year," Cook said of Easaw. "I think people really enjoy the food and just a moment to get to meet new people and share a joyful occasion. I would encourage people to come to the event and see what it's about."
It goes without saying that tonight's celebration has taken a great deal of outside help for its success. In addition to Price, Easaw and other community members, local businesses such as Fred Myers, Wal-Mart, Coke, Safeway, Costco and Super Bear have greatly contributed.
"I as the president, would like to thank all of the BAA members for their hard work," Cook said. "I'm looking forward to people having a good time and enjoying themselves as a community as well as a family."
Patterson also showed her enthusiasm.
"We love our community and love bringing this event to our community every year," she said. "We love who we are and love sharing who we are."
Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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