Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, speaks during a Senate Democrat press conference at the Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, speaks during a Senate Democrat press conference at the Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Gray-Jackson hoping Black History Bill passes this month

Honoring African-American contributions.

Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson did not learn about black history when she grew up. From her office in the Capitol, the freshman Democrat from Anchorage said she is constantly amazed as she continues to learn about the contributions of black Americans.

Now Gray-Jackson has introduced Senate Bill 40 to solidify Black History Month in Alaska.

“I think this is a wonderful way to make our diverse cultures know we really care,” Gray-Jackson said Friday. “I think it’s appropriate to put it in the state statutes of forever.”

Gray-Jackson is hoping this bill can be passed before Black History Month is over.

“The month of February each year is established as Black History Month,” the bill reads. “Black History Month may be observed by schools, community groups, and other public and private agencies and individuals with appropriate activities to honor and recognize the contributions that African-Americans have made in the history of this state and the United States.”

‘A Celebration of African American History in Story and Song’

Gray-Jackson had prepared a short speech about Black History Month for the Senate floor session Friday morning, and she was surprised when 14 of 20 senators requested to become co-sponsors of SB 40.

“Alaska continues to face monumental challenges,” Gray-Jackson said in her speech. “There are many important issues this legislature is set to work through this session, but we can’t forget issues that recognize our diverse communities.”

Gray-Jackson mentioned how she was learning about some of the inventions introduced by African-Americans including the following: Sarah Boone invented the ironing board, Dr. George Grant invented the golf tee, George Crum invented potato chips and Otis Boykin invented the pacemaker.

Gray-Jackson’s speech became impassioned and tearful as she spoke of Alaska’s first African-American woman to serve in the Senate: Sen. Bettye Davis.

“She devoted her whole life to helping the poor and the disenfranchised,” Gray-Jackson said. “She was a staunch public health advocate while also doing everything in her power to build a strong public education system where everyone, no matter your background, would have opportunities to succeed.

“The first time I ran for office was in 2007. I immediately knew that she was one of the first people I wanted to get advice from. Not only because she looked like me, but because of her prior and current service in the political arena. She inspired and encouraged me.”

Gray-Jackson said it is “truly an honor” to be following in Davis’ legacy.

According to her obituary, Davis was born in Louisiana and attended Grambling State University, before living in Anchorage 45 years. She worked as a nurse and social worker. She was eventually elected to the Alaska House where she served from 1990 -1996. She then served in the Senate from 2000-2012. Davis passed away on Dec. 2, 2018.

SB 40 has been referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee. The senators who are now co-sponsors of the bill include: Sens. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage; Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage; Donny Olson, D-Golovin; Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks; Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau; David Wilson, R-Wasilla; Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak; Chris Birch, R-Anchorage; Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage, Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; John Coghill, R-North Pole and Bert Stedman, R-Sitka.

• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258 or Follow him on Twitter at @alaska_kev.

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, in the Senate chambers in April 2011. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, in the Senate chambers in April 2011. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

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