MLK Day event reminds attendees of the importance of taking action

Annual traditions of community celebration, free legal service aim to make local impact

Sherry Patterson began her keynote address with a simple message.


Patterson, the president of Juneau’s Black Awareness Association, stood at the microphone in front of more than 100 people at St. Paul’s Catholic Church during Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community Celebration.

“Happy 2018,” Patterson said. “Another year to do something.”

Taking action, in any way possible, to make a positive difference was the theme of her speech and the speeches of others. Sasha Soboleff of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Freda Westman of the Alaska Native Sisterhood earned standing ovations with their speeches, as did Patterson.

Westman in particular was emotional as she spoke of how tired she was with the hatred and rage in the world. She spoke of people “stirring the pot of simmering anger,” pointing out that it’s easy to get dragged into that kind of frustration. As both she and Soboleff pointed out, one of the keys to making a difference is to respond positively to situations where discrimination is occurring.

“The injustice is still unfolding in our lives,” Soboleff said. “It may have touched you personally, or your family, and your reaction on how to work with it will determine the positive future of our America.”

Between Patterson, Soboleff, Westman, Mayor Ken Koelsch and pastors Phil Campbell and Douglas Dye, there were numerous references to the speeches, actions and vision of King, who was shot and killed 50 years ago this April. One of the examples that resonated the most was when Westman read King’s words that no matter how you do it — flying, running, walking or crawling — it’s important to always be moving forward.

Patterson said that even though these large events are somewhat difficult to coordinate, she said it’s their responsibility to put this event on every year. This MLK Day event has been going for more than 30 years, she said, and it’s as important now as it was when it began.

“You would think in the 2000s that we would have come along a little further than we have,” Patterson said during her speech. “Sometimes you think we’ve just shifted back to the ‘50s, the ‘60s and the ‘70s.”

The country’s racial divide became a more talked-about topic in 2017, but Patterson said Monday’s event was more about taking action locally than it was about wanting to talk about the entire country.

“This is not a political rally of any kind,” Patterson said afterward. “Our mission is to come and educate and to keep Dr. King and his dream alive and ask, ‘What can we do as a community to keep it alive and push it forward?’”

A day of service

Throughout the day Monday, another MLK Day tradition was taking place. For the ninth year in a row, local lawyers got together and offered free legal advice to anyone who wanted it.

They began at the Alaska Legal Services office in the Jordan Creek Mall, and moved to Dimond Courthouse in the afternoon. Municipal, federal, state and private lawyers offered advice on landlord-tenant relationships, divorces, how wills work and more.

Eric Kueffner, a retired lawyer, has participated in the event for three years and this year’s turnout was the best he could recall. Event organizer and Assistant Attorney General Mari Carpeneti said she had to spend the first part of the day running around to nearby businesses in the mall and getting more chairs for clients to use.

The event is part of a nationwide effort to provide services on MLK Day, in the spirit of King’s vision and message of equality.

Carpeneti said this event provides a valuable service to people who wouldn’t even know where to start and don’t have the money to afford legal services.

“A lot of people don’t have $10,000 just set aside for an attorney,” Carpeneti said, “so these consultations are great because a lot of times people just need to be pointed in the right direction.”



• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.




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