Anchorage firefighter André Horton was born to bridge the gap. A middle child with a Black father from Georgia and white mother from Idaho, he’s spent his life as a connector.

“I see both sides,” he says. “I was born that way. So by default, I wake up every morning excited to communicate across cultures, communicate with open mindedness, and I always assume and believe in new perspectives.”

André got lots of practice honing that approach to life being born and raised in Alaska, where he was often the “only.” He is perhaps most widely known as the first Black American to join the national alpine ski team. But, he says, he’s often the only Black person wherever he goes.

Being stuck in the middle, the odd one out, or “on the fence” as André calls it, can be a burden for some people in a similar situation. Not for André. He sees himself as an ambassador.

“If I show up, and I’m the only Black person, to me, there’s an obligation,” he says. “I represent an entire culture that some of these people have never experienced. So, I tell people, ask me anything because when you ask me something we’re all learning.”

For him, his background is unique, a gift. And it’s a starting point. Traveling the world as a skier, André says people were often just as curious about his Alaska identity as his Blackness.

“The moment I would talk to anyone on any continent where there was snow, and I said I was from Alaska, they would immediately light up,” he says.

People would ask him for stories and factoids about what it’s like to live in the 49th state. Talking about Alaska is where he could find common ground with anyone from around the world.

André says he’s had plenty of opportunities to leave Alaska but he’s “never been able to escape it.” A sense of belonging, community, and freedom that he hasn’t been able to find anywhere else keeps him coming back.

At 40, he started a new adventure, becoming a firefighter/EMT with the Anchorage Fire Department, not something he ever thought he’d be doing. Yet it’s perfectly in line with a life spent using unexpected, and often uncomfortable, opportunities to create a connected community.