Sherry Patterson has always been an advocate — starting with herself. Growing up in Louisiana in the 70s, she witnessed classmates struggling with drug use, teen pregnancy and poverty. Government assistance helped but for many it became a trap.

“I looked at that and I didn’t want that,” Sherry said. “I didn’t know what I wanted, but I didn’t want that.”

Sherry had a military brother stationed in Anchorage with his family. “And that was my open door,” she said. “That was my outlet.”

Sherry, still in her teens, made her way across the country to Alaska. Thirty-five years later, she remains here, an advocate not only for herself, but also for others. Throughout her time, she’s continued her advocacy especially for Black and Alaska Native people.

As a longtime member, and now president of the Black Awareness Association in Juneau, Sherry helps coordinate the annual MLK Day celebration and hosts a talk show on local public radio station KTOO geared towards the Black community.

“I am very active and visible in the community, and I am because there’s only a few of us,” Sherry said. It’s important for her to represent and amplify positive action.

“I want our communities to know that we’re here. We matter and we have value,” she said. “We have something to contribute, we love being here, and we want to help prosper and push our community in a good direction.”

Having already retired once, Sherry rejoined the workforce as an employee of SEARHC and now works in customer service as the director of patient experience. It’s a service role that she says she’s honored to fulfill. She feels a special kindredness with the Alaska Native community.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that we still live in a country that treats people so harshly because of the color of their skin. I think that’s why I love being in Alaska and not only because of the beauty, but because I identify with the Alaska Native people.”

Looking ahead to a second retirement, Sherry said she has no intention of leaving the state. After looking for a brighter future all those years ago, she found it, in Alaska.