by Donna Walker
In the aftermath of the violence and hatred on display in Charlottesville this weekend, I found myself in deep reflection.
As a child growing up in the South, I knew that life was different for those who were black. For them it meant sitting in the back of the bus, being banned from many public establishments including restrooms and swimming pools, and living in what were often inferior segregated neighborhoods, attending inferior segregated schools.
There were white and “colored” entrances and seating in theaters, and white and “colored” water fountains. Churches were being bombed, people were being shot and lynched.
My school was integrated when I was in 7th grade. There was violence and bloodshed that day as a young black student was punched through a glass door by the son of the local KKK leader. Rarely a day passed that I did not hear the hateful “N” word.
I was keenly aware of the civil rights movement and of the roles of leaders like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. I was rocked by their assassinations and deeply grieved their deaths.
The fact that I could have a worldview different from so many in the South at that time was due largely to Florence Fumby, our black nanny who was one of the most influential people in my life. Florence taught me to love and respect everyone and I certainly loved her. I have come to believe that hate is taught. So is love.
While still in junior high, my family moved to Hawaii, which was considered the melting pot of the world. There, my appreciation for all of the rich cultures, peoples, histories, and yes, the foods of the world, greatly expanded.
One of my initiatives as First Lady has been to bring Alaskans of diverse cultures together using Anchorage Bridge Builders as a model. This has resulted in the formation of Bridge Builders of Juneau and Bridge Builders of the Mat-Su Valley. For over twenty years, the group’s mission has been to make Anchorage the first city, and ultimately, Alaska the first state, without prejudice.
On Saturday, I will serve once again as the Honorary Chair of the annual Bridge Builder Gala where outstanding volunteers advancing the mission of friendship and unity will be recognized. Bridgebuildersak.org. Please consider joining Governor Walker and me in this celebration of culture and service.
In speaking of Anchorage being one of the most culturally diverse cities in the nation, former NFL player and community leader Ma’o Tosi said in a 2015 CNN interview that our classrooms are so diverse, our children are growing up not knowing the color of their skin.
And for the most part, I agree. This is reflected in the close friendships of our children and our grandchildren. I sense this as I visit Alaska’s classrooms. And indeed, I celebrate this because I know what it is like as a child to sit in a classroom where the exact opposite is true.
So throughout Alaska, Bridge Builders and similar programs are making great strides to build bridges of friendship, understanding, and appreciation for all Alaskans.
Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Byron Mallott are doing the same throughout Alaska through their service and work together. We have this opportunity as the most culturally diverse state in the nation and I ask, why can’t Alaska be the model? Why can’t we be a statewide community of friends, without prejudice? Isn’t it time?
In the last speech Dr. Martin Luther King delivered before his death in 1968, he implored:
“Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be.”
My hope is that we as Alaskans will be profoundly impacted by these recent events and that we will work with greater determination and readiness for all that is good, just, fair, and right. Let us rise up to the challenge to make Alaska and America what they ought to be, and let Alaska lead the way.
Donna Walker is the First Lady of Alaska, and serves as honorary chair of the annual Bridge Builders Gala. Learn more by visiting bridgebuildersak.org.