Jessica King is a community woman through and through.
She is the daughter of local civil rights advocate and longtime teacher Virgie Dunlap-King, who founded the African-American Student Leadership Conference and adopted King the same year. Living with her mother, King became involved with the conference early on.
“She is a wonderful woman, full of ideas and great with planning,” King said, “and I was, at many times, her secretary and so, every year, it rolled around and I would find myself making sure paperwork was taken care of, making sure things were organized, helping put together bags for the students.”
After Dunlap-King’s death in May 2018, King took over as president of the conference. As she’s grown older, she says her role in helping organize the annual event expanded, so when her mother passed away, she knew it was time to step in.
King says she thinks she gained her networking skills from her mother.
“I’m not as outgoing, but I do like to meet people and I do like to make those connections,” she said.
Outside of the conference, King’s activities keep her ingrained in the community. She’s a member of the Fairbanks Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta.
“We’re a small group, and I really enjoy being able to work out of the community with that group of wonderful women,” she said.
Delta Sigma Theta is a sorority dedicated to programs that benefit the African-American community. One of the threads that runs through King’s life is the role she plays supporting the community.
Even her job with the Soldier For Life Transition Assistance Program at Fort Wainwright is all about how she can help other people.
King is a counselor who helps service members leaving the military transition. She specifically helps out in a workshop for those who want to go to college. She also sits with people for one-on-one meetings to go through the application process.
“One thing I’ve found, or guess I’ll say I like about that job, is just being a support,” she said. “Sometimes those applications and that process can be very frustrating, confusing or even intimidating, and we want to make it as easy as possible.”
King says she feels her connections here in Fairbanks. She enjoys the counseling she does at her job, being active in church, helping put on events with her sorority and the work she does with the conference.
“Fairbanks is home. It’s familiar, and you also have a bit of a sense of purpose, especially — and I think one of the big reasons I’m still here is the conference and all of the good work I could see it continuing to do as we grow it, as we refine this vision past just the actual, physical conference,” she said.
King’s goal is twofold: She wants to expand the conference, and she also wants to work beyond it. She says she’d like to see the conference tackle life after high school and support students in postsecondary environments and career decisions. She would also like to do more community work outside of the conference, to be able to find ways to provide similar services for the rest of the year.
Filling the role her mother left has felt natural, King said, but she had to ask herself initially whether she wanted to do it. Now, she says, there is no question anymore.
“It was her baby, you know?” she said. “I’m getting to know her better. I’m making it my baby, if you will.”
King says she isn’t staying from her mother’s intent, original mission or values at all, but wants to see the conference become more.
The African-American Student Leadership Conference kicks off today, celebrating its 33rd year. This will be the second year it has been held in the Wood Center Ballroom.
King, assuredly, will be there. Her plan for today starts at 5 a.m. and doesn’t end until well after the conference wraps.
2018 was her first year running the conference and the first year without her mother, when she sat in on the end of the event, where the kids are given a chance to wrap up and talk about what they’ve experienced. It’s a tradition to let the students attending be the ones to close the conference.
She said it was the first time in a while she had time to sit and listen to what the students were saying, and what she heard touched her. Largely, she said, many of the students said they were glad to have time to talk, share wisdom and listen to people.
“It was really magnificent, and I think that’s one of the reasons that I also want to put so much more into the conference is to keep that momentum going,” she said, “keep that energy going, because sometimes we can go through something and we’ll get a high and want to change the world —but we still need that consistent, constant support in order to really make that change stick.”
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMlocal.