‘To me, it’s Black history life’: The story of longtime Anchorage business owner Tracey Parrish

Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 8:42 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - On the corner of the Ingra and E. 15th Ave is Alaska Pacific Insurance Agency Inc. In the back office, Tracey Parrish has been growing her business for the last 23 years.

She said her story began in the projects of Omaha, Nebraska. Her parents split when she was still young, but she said she’s happier for it. She has a great relationship with both of them. Her father moved to Alaska, her mom stayed in Nebraska. She said she came up to visit her dad and that’s how she ended up here.

Parrish always remained close with her mother. She said her dad and stepmom made sure she and her three siblings wrote home every week.

Parrish said she bought the APIA building when she was 28 with very little experience in doing such things. She said she was immediately wrapped up in legal trouble with a partner, but she won the suit. It was hard, but she said that experience made her a stronger businesswoman.

She’s grown APIA to the point where she has multiple offices across the country. Even after all that work and all that time, she said “businesswoman” isn’t her defining characteristic.

“I still see myself as just Tracey, the fifth grade elementary teacher or the silly girl from the hood that just had great parents,” she said. “I guess I should say I wasn’t a business person. I don’t like to look at myself as a business person because it seems so structured and so rigid and so unapproachable. But I guess I am business, because this is what I do.”

Parrish has a picture book filled with moments in her life to document some of the many things she does. But whether it’s buying groceries for the person in line struggling to pay, setting up a GoFundMe for someone in a tough financial situation or helping buy Christmas trees, ornaments and wrapping paper, giving back is what’s most important to Parrish.

As an insurance agent, she sees a lot of people going through tough times. She doesn’t give insurance for free, but she’ll walk clients who don’t know what they’re doing through all the steps. She said if she knows money is tight for a client, it wouldn’t be unlike her to help them buy a bike or a pair of shoes for their kids.

She said unless she talks to the person long enough, she doesn’t always remember the things she does for other people.

“It’s hard to just spit it out sometimes, because I do it and I forget,” she said. “I have people say, ‘remember you did this for me?’ or ‘you bought that,’ or ‘you helped my child with that,’ and I don’t!”

Parrish also has her own nonprofit organization called BRIX — Build Revive Inspire Xpress — that she started with the goal of mentoring and empowering young women in Alaska.

Parrish said every philanthropic action she’s ever done is because of the lessons her mother taught her, which are the same lessons she’s passed down to her kids and her four grandchildren.

“I don’t give a lot of money, but I’ll buy a plane ticket. You tell me what it is that’s going on I’ll take care of that. I don’t give bulk money to organizations, because I don’t know who’s gonna get it. Is management gonna get it? I don’t even want management to get 2% of it. I want it all to go to that person who is in need,” she said. “I’m giving to help you grow. I’m not giving to help you lay low.”

She also said she tries to only help people who want to help themselves. So people who ask her for money don’t usually get it. However, if help is needed to get off of welfare, Parrish said she’ll help.

Parrish doesn’t do all the good that she does because she’s a longtime business owner, but it makes it easier.

“Now, I don’t have this business to take care of people. This is my business to take care of my business, but it allows me the opportunity to do what I’ve always done,” she said. “Giving away my allowance when I was younger, buying kids in the neighborhood things when I was younger. So now I get to do it on a greater scale.”

That mindset that made her nickname, “God’s Assistant,” really stick around the office.

Parrish said while it is small, the Black community is strong in Alaska and is a good place for Black people to not only live but thrive.

“So I hear Black people say they love home — where ever home is — but they kinda come here and since being here it’s a little more calm. They don’t have to deal with some of the race issues — not so blatantly. Not that we don’t have them but they’re not so blatant and pushed in your face,” she said.

However, she knows racial tension is still a major issue in the United States. She said in 2020 she saw the violence, the injustices and the division. However, she said she also saw a generation of young people of all backgrounds standing together in support of positive change.

“They’re not afraid to say ‘This is me. This is what I look like’ or ‘this is what I feel.’ So people are communicating and they’re voices are being heard more,” she said. “And it is causing some ruckus and some problems, but it’s for the people in the back.”

Now, Parrish continues to do business and helps whoever she can with her “angels,” what she calls her staff. For the first time in her business’ history, all the angels are Black.

“People come in and say, ‘Oh look! Is this a family business?’ No! That’s not my daughter, that’s not my sister, that’s not my aunt, that’s not my niece. They just happen to be qualified and they happen to be Black or brown,” she said. “I have a strong, solid group of people that work with me. And they happen to be Black. And Black looks strong also. Black looks solid also. Black looks successful also.”

Parrish said she never really knows how to feel when February comes around and Black History Month starts.

“I’ve been black for 51 years,” she said. “So to me, it’s Black history life.”

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