From helping seniors to preserving historic communities and the Sweetgrass culture. Thomasena Stokes-Marshall is no stranger to hard work, and now even though she can relax if she wanted to, she still pounds the pavement every day, trying to lend a helping hand. Thomasena Stokes Marshall is our Everyday Hero.
She is supposed to be retired, but Thomasena Stokes-Marshall hits the ground running every day, working to strengthen the communities she loves. Born in the Snowden area of Mount Pleasant, Stokes-Marshall moved to New York City with her parents a child. She received her B.A. in Public Administration and Community Organization from New York University and spent 25 years with the New York City Police Department. Stokes-marshall says, “For ten years, I walked the beat and did radio patrol, and I got promoted to detective and specialized in community affairs and public administration.”
She returned home, and in 1998, Ms. Stokes-Marshall ran for a seat on Mt. Pleasant Town Council. She became the first and only African American elected to serve on town council. During her 17 year tenure, she wore many leadership hats, including the push to open a senior center in Mount Pleasant. “We do it because number one the kind of services that’s provided here for seniors, I believe it’s needed. I think it’s demonstrated in the use of the facility and programs. We have a membership of close to three thousand. Since the facility was built, the size has doubled.” The center bears her name. When asked how does that make you feel? Stokes-Marshall responds, “Humbled, delighted, very pleased. I view it as probably one of the greatest accomplishments of my life because I view this facility as a one that will be ongoing into the future.”
Ms. Stokes-Marshall also formed the Sweetgrass Cultural Arts Festival Association. From that creation, came the annual Sweetgrass Festival, an event designed to protect, preserve, educate, engage to, and bring attention to the Gullah Geechee history and the ancient Sweetgrass basket making art form. She says, “Our mission was to protect and preserve the Gullah Geechee history, culture, tradition of the Sweetgrass basket making.” The annual Sweetgrass festival has grown in size and scope to become a major attraction in Mt. Pleasant.
Basket weaver Alethia Foreman says Stokes-Marshall is a blessing to the community. “She’s done a lot for the community, especially with the Sweetgrass basket weavers, and a lot of other things also. To have her come and do all the things she does, I gotta applaud her. She means a lot to us. She is highly loved.”
Ms. Stokes-Marshall is also working on the newly formed African American Settlement Community Historic Commission to help preserve communities. She says, “It’s instinctive for me to care about people. I do believe especially in this time in my life that God has truly blessed me, and the work that I do now, I can chose not to do anything, but the work I do now is the work I believe God has chosen for me to do, and I enjoy doing it.”
The Sweetgrass Basket Association also offers a summer camp to help preserve the tradition.
Throughout the years, Ms. Stokes-Marshall has served on numerous non-profit boards, commissions and committees in the Town of Mount Pleasant and the City of Charleston. The East Cooper Habitat for Humanity, East Cooper Meals on Wheels are are just a few from a very long list of community action work. Stokes-Marshall has a long list of awards, accolades, and achievements for her community service.