Hundreds gather in Anchorage to commemorate ‘March on Washington’ anniversary

People holding signs that say Black Lives Matter
Hundreds of people gathered in Anchorage Town Square Park on September 7, 2020 to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

Demonstrators gathered Monday for an event organized by the Alaska Black Caucus to commemorate the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, said President and CEO Celeste Hodge Growden.

“The struggle continues,” Growden said. “We still need reforms, there’s still not equality, we’re still struggling to achieve equity. So we still are fighting for those same issues from long ago.”

The day began in Anchorage’s Town Square Park where participants listened to a series of speeches from elected officials including Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera, activists, clergy, children, and other leaders in the community.

Three yellow banners affixed to the side of the building that read "Lives," "Matter," and "In AK"
Alaska Black Caucus organizers say they affixed banners to the Performing Arts Center building in Downtown Anchorage that were intended to read “Black Lives Matter in AK,” but were disappointed to find the banner that reads “Black” was taken down. The signs now just read “Lives Matter in AK.” (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

A few people attended to heckle speakers, and some who appeared to oppose the march circled the park in their cars revving their engines. Black Lives Matter activist and entrepreneur Jasmine Smith, addressed those individuals in her speech.

“When you have people who are supposed to be your neighbors riding around revving up their engines yelling obscenities and cussing around kids that pisses me off,” Smith said. “We can stand up, we can be part of the movement and let them know I don’t care about your damn engines revving. I’m not going anywhere. So we’ll say it again together, Black Lives Matter.”

LB Brown showed up to the event with his dachsund Turk and a rifle. Brown said he wasn’t worried that other people would feel threatened by his firearm.

“I feel sorry for them, and I respect their position, that’s all,” he said.

Brown said he mistakenly came to the event because he thought it was a Second Amendment rally but stayed because there didn’t seem like a good reason to leave.

“Why not? Peaceful is just that, peaceful, with nonviolence. That’s it,” he said.

Portrait of a white older man wearing a red Trump hat with a rifle slung across his chest
LB Brown attended the March on Alaska in Anchorage with his dachsund Turk on September 7, 2020. “I heard it was a Second Amendment rally, but a better question is why am I staying here. Why not? That’s all.” Brown said of attending the event. When asked if he was worried others would feel threatened by his firearm he said no. “I feel sorry for them, you know, and I respect their position, that’s all.” (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

From the park, participants quietly marched to the Delaney Park Strip where a memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stands.

As he marched from the park to the park strip, 25-year-old Cedric Williams said he was encouraged to see participation Monday from elected officials like Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.

A portrait of a young Black man wearing a mask that says "Black Lives Matter"
Cedric Williams attends the March on Alaska in Anchorage on September 7, 2020. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

“I think that’s where it starts,” Williams said. “Coming together like this and putting them on that stage — like, ‘We see you. Now, make something happen.'”

Williams said he thought the organizers’ messages were powerful. But he still feels like there’s a lot of work to do.

The Black boys walk with a line of marchers holding signs that read "Black Lives Matter"
A crowd of people quietly walked up 5th Avenue from Downtown Anchorage to the Park Strip as part of the March on Alaska event on September 7, 2020. (Mayowa Aina/Alaska Public Media)

“You see a lot of pandering. Like, McDonald’s for example — when they put out a tweet saying, ‘They were one of us,’ about all the people that have lost their lives to police. But they’re still underpaying their Black workers, still not allowing them sick leave,” he said.

At the park strip where the march finished, Tim Riedell was wearing a Harry Potter mask and standing in the grass with a friend. He’s a flight attendant and says he grew up on the West Coast and had what he thought was a liberal mindset. But he said the Black Lives Matter movement is making him see things differently.

“I’m really getting shook up a little bit,” Riedell said. “But it’s good. And it’s going to be hard work for me — I can tell. It’s not going to be easy.”

Riedell said he’s realized that he was unconsciously treating Indigenous and Black people differently — putting them on different levels.

Portrait of a middle-aged white man man in a field wearing a blue beanie, sunglasses, and a mask with Harry Potter patterned across it
Tim Reidell attends the March on Alaska event in Anchorage on September 7, 2020. (Nat Herz/Alaska Public Media)

“I just have all these privileges. I have all these privileges being a white male, especially, and I don’t even know it. But I certainly have enjoyed ’em,” Riedell said. “I’m thinking that everybody’s enjoying them. But now I’m figuring out that not everybody has been enjoying what I’ve been enjoying.”

Many themes of the event centered on Martin Luther King Jr.’s concept of the “Beloved community” which he famously articulated in his “I Have a Dream” speech given at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

Growden, the Alaska Black Caucus president, said she was happy with the turnout.

“I feel really blessed to live in a place where a lot of people want to help build that beloved community.”

Growden said she hopes the day’s event inspires people to work with legislators, vote and get involved in policy change.

Alaska Public Media’s Nat Herz contributed reporting to this story.