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Honoring an Alaskan icon and mentor

  • Author: Celeste Hodge Growden
    | Opinion
  • Updated: January 20, 2019
  • Published January 20, 2019

Bettye Davis takes a lead over Don Smith in their school board race as she watches Tuesday April 2, 2013 at election central at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center. (Erik Hill / ADN)

During Black History Month in February, it will be my honor to coordinate on behalf of Shiloh Community Development Inc. a summit to honor the legacy of Bettye Davis, who passed away late last year.

Although the summit is next month, it’s significant to note on the date of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birth, the leadership role Bettye Davis undertook, with other notables, in getting the state of Alaska to recognize his birthday as a state holiday.

Troy and Bettye Davis, with their son Tony and daughter Sonja, arrived in Alaska in the mid-1960s. While Troy was finishing his career as an airman, Bettye took a job in state government. With the love and support of her family, she found the time to become active in a new church home, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, as well as the Alaska Black Caucus.

In the 1980s, she won a seat on the Anchorage School Board. Later, she served stints in both the Alaska House and state Senate. At the time of her passing, she had returned to her lifelong love of education and children by winning another election to the Anchorage School Board.

Her history-making elections are praiseworthy in themselves. She was a woman of many firsts, including the first African-American senator in Alaska. Davis’ deep-down care and concern for vulnerable children, the sick and the elderly, and for those without a voice, were an expression of her strong character and influenced the scope of many of the bills she sponsored.

However, on a personal level, her many achievements are secondary to the personal relationship I enjoyed as a mentee during my time as her staff aide while she served in the state Legislature.

As a staff aide, I can’t recall a time when she was too busy to offer insights on life, the many conversations we shared about the need to uplift women, our community and the children, and what it took to be a good servant of the persons who elected you to office. She viewed the relationship between constituents and their elected representative as a sacred bond of trust that was never to be broken by mere matters of expediency. She was one of those rare politicians from a bygone era where they were referred to and conducted themselves as statespersons.

The character traits, as mentioned, of being a servant of the people and conducting one’s self with dignity and honor are ones I have adopted in my professional pursuits, after completing my service as one of her staff members. I can sum her life up in the often used, but hardly ever honored, saying that Bettye’s word was her bond.

Davis hosted an African-American Summit decades ago and always wanted to host another one to empower her community. Unfortunately, she never had the time. As such, I pray for the ability to not only put in practice the lessons I learned as a mentee, but to also have the coordinating activities I am undertaking, as a labor of love, reflect in a very positive manner on the full-day tribute summit to the legacy of Bettye Davis. The free Bettye Davis African-American Summit will be held on Saturday, Feb. 16, at Clark Middle School, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will kick off with a tribute prayer breakfast. Please visit scdialaska.org to view a complete agenda or to reserve a spot at this public event.

Celeste Hodge Growden is executive director of Shiloh Community Development Inc. She lives in Anchorage.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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