It’s common for kids to want to leave their home state to spread their wings and explore different opportunities. Shanette Harper always wanted to stay in Alaska.
“I really broadened my horizons in the local community through college, and through my love of the arts,” Shanette said. “I didn’t have a reason to leave.”
Shanette, now a registered nurse and actress, said growing up in Alaska provided her with a strong sense of community that nurtured her creative spirit.
Born in Fairbanks and raised in Anchorage where her family has roots going back two generations, Shanette said as a kid, her mom kept her plenty busy. Activities ranged from gymnastics and karate to cheerleading and track. Yet Shanette always knew she wanted to be an actress. She even had a doll she named Hollywood, Holly for short. She finally began to pursue it when she took theater courses in college. Acting intensified her sense of belonging in Alaska.
“It’s not just the arts, but it’s that community-based mentality of doing and being part of something and being part of an organization,” Shanette said. “I was like ‘This is awesome!’ ”
Despite that sense of community, Shanette stuck out. Attending private school and participating in certain activities often meant she was in majority white spaces. But, she said, it was in majority Black spaces like her church where she felt the most discomfort. Other Black kids would make fun of the clothes she wore or the music she listened to or say she didn’t “sound Black” because of the way she talked.
“It doesn’t matter what culture you’re in, someone is going to be singled out, it’s just a kid thing,” Shanette said. “I was singled out, but it didn’t matter to me because I spent most of my time with people where I wasn’t singled out.”
She learned to be confident in herself and who she was. It was hurtful in the moment, but Shanette said that experience became her strength. It taught her how to have empathy for others, the very quality that makes someone a good actor or actress.
“If you have empathy you can pick up acting a lot faster,” Shanette said. “The stronger you are with your empathy, the easier it is to portray someone else. You’re not judging them.”
Shanette remains connected to the sector as a SAG-AFTRA representative for Alaska within the Seattle Northwest region. Although she’s found community and a career among people who spend their time pretending to be others, Shanette said she’s totally comfortable today just being herself.