Alumni of Distinction: Celeste Hodge Growden

by Matt Jardin  |   

Celeste Hodge Growden
2023-24 Alumni Humanitarian award recipient Celeste Hodge Growden, B.S.W. Social Work ’96, A.A. General Program ’92, president and CEO of Alaska Black Caucus. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Celeste Hodge Growden, B.S.W. Social Work ’96, A.A. General Program ’92, will receive the 2023-24 Alumni Humanitarian award at the Alumni of Distinction Celebration Banquet on March 29, 2024, at Lucy Cuddy Hall on the Anchorage campus.

Sparked by the overdue protests and conversations on the topics of racial equity and systemic change in 2020 and 2021, Black organizations across the country received a surge of political and financial support from a population ready to make a difference. In Anchorage, leading the charge is the Alaska Black Caucus (ABC), a nonpartisan nonprofit that has advocated for the constitutional rights of Black Americans in Alaska as early as the 1970s.

In 2019, social work alumna Celeste Hodge Growden became president and CEO of ABC where she works to enact institutional reform via specialized committees focused on four core pillars: justice, education, economics and health.

“To really move the equity needle away from discrimination, we need to recognize that racism has been historically ingrained in key areas of society,” said Growden. “What’s been beautiful is that not all of our allies look anything like me, but they believe in our mission, they stand alongside us and lift us up. Together, we're able to accomplish uncommon results.”

With the additional support, in just three years Growden and ABC have been able to convince the Anchorage Police Department to agree to implement mandatory body cameras for officers, get the Anchorage School District to adopt Anti-Racism and Instructional Equity Policies, and launch annual Blackout Days to spotlight local Black-owned businesses. 

Most personal to Growden was the completion of Alaska’s first Black health needs assessment. With funding from the Anchorage Health Department, ABC partnered with the UAA School of Social Work to produce the most comprehensive snapshot of health within the Black community. Over 600 surveys were collected. Had such a report existed previously, Growden’s mother may not have passed away in 2019 from ovarian cancer, which had gone undiagnosed for years, and is a disease found to be suffered at a higher rate among Black women. Despite the tragic timing, Growden is comforted by the fact that going forward, the health needs assessment will inform different programs to improve the health of Black Alaskans.

“My experience and advisors at UAA really instilled my deep care and concern for individuals,” said Growden. “What’s wonderful is getting to build on that to get at the macro level and help large groups of people while talking directly to gatekeepers about our issues and concerns.”

Before her tenure at ABC, Growden worked as a family service counselor for the Anchorage Health Department before retiring as director for the mayor’s office of equal opportunity. She also served as past president of the NAACP Alaska chapter for nearly a decade. 

Growden continues to expand work on ABC’s four core pillars from its new 6,000-square-foot building in downtown Anchorage, christened the Equity Center. The space will be multi-purpose, providing below-market-rate office space for lease, a commercial kitchen, a gathering area and a coworking space. The Equity Center is not meant to be a beacon of hope for any one group, but the entire BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) community.

“Our issues are their issues and collectively there is power,” said Growden. “By coming together, I'm optimistic that one day, maybe not in my lifetime, we’ll get to that beloved community that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. often referenced where everybody is treated equally and everybody has opportunity.”

Creative Commons License "Alumni of Distinction: Celeste Hodge Growden" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.